Tennis: Courier steamroller crushes Korda

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The Independent Online
THE Australian Open is building towards an excellent climax, with four Grand Slam champions contesting the men's singles title, three of whom are candidates to finish the tournament as world No 1.

In tomorrow's semi-finals, Jim Courier, the defending champion, plays Michael Stich, and Stefan Edberg faces Pete Sampras. Stich, the 1991 Wimbledon champion, is the only one without a prospect of heading the computer rankings after Sunday's final.

All four advanced from the quarter-finals yesterday by winning their matches in straight sets and in less than two hours, and Courier's pulverising of Petr Korda, the seventh seed, was the show-stopper.

Emphasising that he is still the player to beat, Courier made only seven unforced errors compared to Korda's 50, and won 13 consecutive games from 1-1 in the opening set, finishing the job in an hour and 39 minutes, 6-1, 6-0, 6-4.

If Korda imagined he had felt the full force of Courier's ground strokes when defeated by the American on clay in the final of the French Open last June, he discovered that the impact could be even more devastating on rubberised concrete at Flinders Park.

'Sometimes I wasn't even seeing the ball,' the Czech said. 'Not in the last two years has anyone played against me like that. At the French Open, I was more nervous and inexperienced, but he didn't play as well as he did today.'

Courier, who dominated the men's game last year until skidding to a halt on the Wimbledon grass, seems to have restored his confidence. 'I feel like my game is moving along with each match,' he said. 'When things are going, I guess you just keep rolling.'

A reprise of last year's final, in which Courier defeated Edberg, could be ambushed by Sampras or Stich, or by both. They are determined to add to the one Grand Slam title against their names (Sampras became the youngest US Open champion in 1990).

Edberg (No 2) versus Sampras (No 3) could be the class act of the semi-finals, if not the tournament, provided the Swede's back problem continues to improve with treatment. The signs were good yesterday, when Edberg defeated a compatriot, Christian Bergstrom, 6-4, 6-4, 6-1, in an hour and 43 minutes.

As was the case in Courier's match with Korda, rain, or the threat of it, caused the contest to be played with the Centre Court roof closed. Edberg began tentatively and gradually eased into his stride, as he did against the Frenchman, Arnaud Boetsch, in the fourth round. The difference yesterday could be gauged in the speed of serve: Edberg's first deliveries were virtually back to normal, averaging 100mph.

Tony Pickard, Edberg's coach, is delighted with the player's progress since Saturday, when his back was injured during the match against Amos Mansdorf. 'The big thing for me is that he's won these last two matches playing within himself,' Pickard said. 'I didn't think he'd have a cat in hell's chance when he did it.'

Sampras brought Brett Steven's first excursion to a Grand Slam championship to a close, defeating the New Zealander 6-3, 6-2, 6-3, on Court One. 'I was hoping that he would get bored out there so I could have a chance,' Steven said. 'He stayed interested too long.'

Steven's solitary success was a break at the start of the third set, and his assessment of the American - 'I thought he played within himself until he needed to' - could almost have been an echo of Pickard on Edberg.

Sampras and Edberg recalled their meeting in the final of last year's United States Open with contrasting emotions. 'That was a sweet one,' said Edberg, the victor in four sets. 'It was one of my best performances ever; maybe the best one.' For Sampras, it was 'probably the most devasting experience I have had so far, because I more or less blew it'.

Fred Perry and Donald Budge, two illustrious figures who consider Sampras to be a future Wimbledon champion, have been joined by a third. Rod Laver, who accomplished the Grand Slam as an amateur and a professional, is prepared to go even further in his assessment of the 21-year-old Californian.

'I look at Sampras and see he has all the shots needed to win a Grand Slam during his career,' Laver said. 'He has a big serve, and can hit a lot of different shots all around the court. I initially thought Becker was a Grand Slam candidate. He was very successful on grass and hard courts and, being from Germany, I thought he would be able to win on clay as well. The fact that he hasn't done it shows the depth of the game these days.'

Becker's absence since the first round here has given Stich an opportunity to demonstrate again that Germany has more than one leading male player. Having done nothing to enhance his popularity with displays of temper in the opening week, the 14th seed has settled into an impressive stream of form.

His quarter-final win against Guy Forget, the 11th seed, was as comfortable as 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 indicates, though the French left- hander hardly made the most of the occasion, serving erratically and consequently losing the rhythm of his game. 'He has never made it to semi-finals yet, and he wanted to win very badly,' Stich said. 'It was easy to see in the beginning that he was very nervous.'

We can only speculate about the outcome at Wimbledon if Forget had been in a similar state when Jeremy Bates was serving on match point in the fourth round.

Britain continues to be represented in the junior event, victories against seeded opponents taking Jamie Delgado and James Baily into the third round. Baily retrieved a 1-4 deficit in the third set to defeat the 14th seed, Allen Belobrajdic, of Australia, 6-4, 1-6, 8-6, and Delgado won 6-1, 7-5 against J J Jackson, the American seventh seed, who is reported to have signed a three-year clothing contract worth pounds 200,000.

AUSTRALIAN OPEN (Melbourne): Men's singles quarter-finals: P SAMPRAS (US) bt B Steven (NZ) 6-3 6-2 6-3; M STICH (Ger) bt G FORGET (Fr) 6-4 6-4 6-4; S EDBERG (Swe) bt C Bergstrom (Swe) 6-4 6-4 6-1; J COURIER (US) bt P KORDA (Cz Rep) 6-1 6-0 6-4.

Men's doubles quarter-finals: J-L De Jager and M Ondruska (SA) bt S Cannon and S Melville (US) 4-6 7-6 6-4 6-4.

Women's doubles quarter-finals: J HETHERINGTON (Can) and K RINALDI (US) bt C MARTINEZ and A SANCHEZ VICARIO (Sp) 4-6 6-1 6-0; P FENDICK (US) and A STRNADOVA (Cz Rep) bt M J FERNANDEZ and Z GARRISON-JACKSON (US) 6-2 6-2.

Mixed doubles second round: C Martinez and J Sanchez (Sp) bt G Fernandez and T Witsken (US) 6-2 6-7 6-3. Quarter-finals: N ZVEREVA (Belar) and K JONES (US) bt E Smylie and J Fitzgerald (Aus) 6-1 3-6 6-3.

Boys' singles second round (selected): J Baily (GB) bt A Belobrajdic (Aus) 6-4 1-6 8-6; J Delgado (GB) bt J J Jackson (US) 6-1 7-5. Doubles first round (selected): E Jacques and J Roddick (US) bt Baily and Delgado 4-6 7-6 6-1.