Tennis: Courier and Sampras prepared for heat of battle: Edberg keeps cool indoors and outdoors to beat Austrian and join three Americans in the semi-finals of the Australian Open

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The Independent Online
JIM COURIER said that he and Pete Sampras tend to bring out the best in each other, a statement which is unlikely to receive unanimous support from the millions who watched last year's Wimbledon final.

The two Americans are due to meet tomorrow in the semi-finals of the Australian Open, their first confrontation since Independence Day at the All England Club, when four serve-dominated sets recharged the issue of the power game.

Sampras and Courier can be expected to produce a few more rallies at Flinders Park, because the lawn was taken out of Australian tennis six years ago in favour of rubberised concrete courts. These allow the counter-puncher to profit as much as, if not more than, the attacking player.

Courier's pounding groundstrokes have brought him the title for the past two years, prior to which Boris Becker's serves and volleys superseded the baseline reigns of Ivan Lendl and Mats Wilander.

Factors other than the surface of the court come into play in Melbourne; such as the capricious weather. A hot northerly wind of up to 36mph added to the problems of competing in temperatures which reached 128F on the court during three of the quarter- final matches.

But by the time Stefan Edberg and Thomas Muster unsheathed their rackets for the evening session, the wind had calmed and turned, bringing anorak conditions from the Antarctic.

The Centre Court roof was closed after rain interrupted play, with Edberg leading the Austrian by a set and 3-0, and the players and spectators were afforded the luxury of air-conditioning.

Edberg played superbly, outdoors and indoors, winning 6-2, 6-3, 6-4 in an hour and 36 minutes. 'He had very good rhythm on everything,' Muster said. 'Before the break, I was hitting good returns. Usually, people would play them back and give you a chance to do something, but everything he hit was a winner.'

The Swede, beaten twice by Courier and once by Lendl in previous finals at Flinders Park, is the only non-American in the semi-finals. He plays the 6ft 6in Todd Martin, from Illinois. The United States last had three representatives in the last four in 1982: Steve Denton, Hank Pfister, and the naturalised Johan Kriek, who defeated Denton in the final.

Martin, the No 9 seed, was exposed to the heat and wind on No 1 Court, coping better with the conditions than his compatriot, MaliVai Washington, to advance to his first Grand Slam semi-final with a 6-2,

7-6, 7-6 victory. He has played Edberg twice, both times indoors last year, winning in straight sets in Tokyo and losing in straight sets at the Grand Slam Cup in Munich.

Courier works impressively in the heat for a person with reddish hair and a fair complexion, though he often reminds people that he does come from Florida and likes to practise in desert conditions in Palm Springs. He also wears a cap, even at indoor tournaments.

After saving two set points in a first-set tie-break, the defending champion produced a consistency of shot-making that caused Goran Ivanisevic to wilt, 7-6, 6-4, 6-2. An hour and a quarter into the match, the Croat decided to wear a cap. 'I started to see stars around my head and felt a little bit dizzy,' he said. The hat was good for his health, if not his performance.

Sampras also had to save two set points in the opening set of his match against Sweden's Magnus Gustafsson. It was fortunate for the world No 1 that he did, because he lost the second set and his performance continued to be erratic. He double-faulted 17 times (a personal worst) and made 52 unforced errors before winning, 7-6, 2-6, 6-3, 7-6.

'It's like a sauna,' Sampras said. 'You can't really breathe. It's more of a stamina match than a tennis match sometimes.'

The Wimbledon and United States Open champion admitted there were times when he deliberately tossed points away. 'If it's 40-0, him serving, do you want to really work hard and try to get to 40-30 and waste some energy, or do you want to go to the next game? I did that a couple of times. You have to concede the game to save your energy in this heat. It's a smart move, I think.'

Courier was asked if he would do the same. 'If I needed to conserve energy, I guess I would,' he said. 'I usually don't need to conserve energy.' Touche.

----------------------------------------------------------------- MEN'S SEMI-FINALS ----------------------------------------------------------------- HEAD-TO-HEAD SAMPRAS v COURIER (Sampras leads 8-2) Venue Surf Rnd Winner Score 1988 Scottsdale hard 32 Sampras 6-3 6-1 1991 Cincinnati hard SF Sampras 6-2 7-5 1991 Ind'apolis hard SF Sampras 6-3 7-6 1991 US Open hard QF Courier 6-2 7-6 7-6 1991 Frankfurt carpet F Sampras 3-6 7-6 6-3 6-4 1992 Indianapolis hard F Sampras 6-4 6-4 1992 US Open hard SF Sampras 6-1 3-6 6-2 6-2 1992 Frankfurt carpet SF Courier 7-6 7-6 1993 Hong Kong hard F Sampras 6-3 6-7 7-6 1993 Wimbledon grass F Sampras 7-6 7-6 3-6 6-3 EDBERG v MARTIN (Tied 1-1) Venue Surf Rnd Winner Score 1993 Tokyo carpet QF Martin 6-4 6-4 1993 Munich carpet 1st Edberg 6-3 6-2 -----------------------------------------------------------------