Tennis: Courier falls to inspired Czech: Holder evicted from his Italian Open home by wide-awake Dosedel while Sampras powers on

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The Independent Online
JIM COURIER lost the Italian Open title he has held for the past two years last night, defeated in the quarter-finals by Slava Dosedel, who is ranked 51st in the world and had to save two match points to survive the opening round.

As a reward for his astonishing triumph, 1-6, 6-3, 6-4, the 23-year-old from the Czech Republic will face Pete Sampras, the world No 1, in the semi-finals today. He denied Courier the chance to play his American compatriot on clay for the first time after winning only two of their 12 matches to date, including last year's Wimbledon final.

Courier was so much in control during the opening set that the turn-around was remarkable. Once Dosedel was given half a chance, he produced some inspired tennis, covering the court smartly and hitting the lines at every opportunity. 'He's a very clever player,' Courier said. 'He's different, and it's fun playing him.'

The most impressive aspect of Courier's performance was the spirit in which he accepted the highs and lows. Not noted for his humour on the court, the former No 1 indulged in an amusing impersonation of a telephone call when one of the countless cordless phones in the crowd started ringing. At the time, the champion was down 4-2 down in the final set.

Dosedel, having survived his opening match against the Frenchman Arnaud Boetsch, scored a surprising win against the Ukrainian Andrei Medvedev in the third round. That was the best win of his career - until last night.

Sampras continued to attack his way through the draw. History, and the Wimbledon champion's impressive armoury, were ranged against Italy's Andrea Gaudenzi. No Italian had managed to reach the semi-finals here since Adriano Panatta in 1978, nor had they survived Sampras's blistering serve.

Gaudenzi was the 10th to attempt to beat Sampras and the 10th to fail, though he gave the Wimbledon champion a few anxious moments before Sampras delivered his 16th and 17th aces to win, 6-3, 7-5.

Boris Becker's quest for the elusive first clay-court title of his career gained momentum when his German rival, Michael Stich, was declared unable to compete for a place in the semi-finals because of lumbago.

The world No 2, a wild-card entry, had requested an early start. But after attempting a few shots in practice, he said he was unable to serve and volley.

After making his apologies, Stich left Becker with the task of facing Goran Ivanisevic in the last four and returned to Germany, where his wife, Jessica, has not experienced the best of weeks.

At 2am on Thursday, Jessica, who plays the role of a doctor in a television soap, was driving a courtesy car from the previous week's German Open in Hamburg, reportedly accompanied by her sheepdog, Ponytails. The car, which had been due to be returned to a local distributor two days earlier, was stopped by Hamburg police for speeding. Jessica subsequently failed a breathalyser test.

By coincidence, one of Stich's brothers is to marry today. Last July, when his other brother was wed, Stich won a semi-final in Stuttgart, attended the reception, and returned for the Sunday final. He was beaten by Sweden's Magnus Gustafsson.

Meanwhile, back at the Foro Italico, Becker's wins against Karel Novacek, Javier Sanchez and Cedric Pioline have encouraged the eighth seed to believe that he can improve upon a semi-final appearance on his debut here in 1985 (he was beaten by Yannick Noah, the former French Open champion).

Ivanisevic, who defeated the Dutchman Jacco Eltingh, 7-6, 6-3, in the quarter-finals yesterday, has won only three of his eight matches against Becker. But the Croat will savour thoughts of their first meeting, the only one on clay, when he eliminated Becker in the first round of the 1990 French Open.

(Photograph omitted)