Courier Next for Charging Sampras

NEW YORK -- Three straight sets Jim Courier trailed Michael Chang, and three times Courier clawed back to reach the U.S. Open semifinals in one of his gutsiest Grand Slam victories.

Courier, who will play Pete Sampras on Saturday, set the tone in the first set on Thursday night, fighting off four set-points in one game, and beat Chang 7-6 (7-5), 7-6 (7-3), 7-5.

In the other men's semifinal, No. 1 Andre Agassi plays No. 4 Boris Becker, in a rematch of their Wimbledon semifinal which saw the German upset the American.

In women's semifinals late on Friday, Germany's Steffi Graf was to play No. 16 Brenda Schultz-McCarthy of the Netherlands, while Graf's co-No. 1, American Monica Seles, was to face Argentina's No. 6 seed, Gabriela Sabatini.

Chang, seeded No. 5, led 5-3 in each set but never could put away the No. 14 Courier, who has been playing this whole tournament with the fire he had during his reign as No. 1 several years ago. Ultimately, Chang threw the match away by double-faulting on match point.

If recent history continues, Courier could be the champion this year. For the last four years, whoever has beaten Chang in the Open has gone on to win the title.

Chang lost this match as much as Courier won it. For all of Courier's aggressive play and sizzling shots in the corners on the key points in the tiebreaks, Chang wasted chances and double-faulted at the wrong times.

"Normally I'm the one who's ahead, and Michael's the one coming from behind," said Courier, who has won four Grand Slam titles but never the U.S. Open. "I let him serve for all three sets, and I broke each time. This is a good match to get through."

Sampras also charged into the semifinals, closing out game after game with aces that served as exclamation points.

Among his 22 aces through a whipping wind, seven flew past a dizzy Byron Black on the last point of Sampras' service games, leaving the Zimbabwean with the memory of brute power that lingered in his mind when he stepped up to serve so much less emphatically.

Sampras punctuated the end of his 7-6 (7-3), 6-4, 6-0 romp with an ace that, at 206 kilometers per hour, was just as fast as his first serve, showing he was no more tired at the end of the 1 hour, 45 minute semifinal tuneup than he was at the start.

The winner of the Open in 1990 and 1993, Sampras had only a little trouble in the first set adjusting to the unseeded Black's mild-mannered game and two-fisted groundstrokes. In his previous match, Sampras had beaten a much different player in serve-and-volley specialist Todd Martin.

Once Sampras got used to Black's style and cut down on his own errors, there was nothing to impede his progress one step closer to another Grand Slam title.

"After I won the first two, there was no reason to fool around at this point in the tournament and take things for granted," Sampras said. "The last set was the best set I played all week. I really started to pick up my serve. My whole game kind of just came behind it."

Black, a month shy of 26, sounded like someone who had just had his party spoiled. He had beaten No. 8 Michael Stich to get this far, and harbored dreams of another upset. But the story about how Sampras got knocked out of the Open by a kid who learned to play barefoot on a grass court in Zimbabwe will have to wait.

"I was pretty much overpowered out there," Black said. "I haven't played in that sort of swirling wind before, and I think Pete was used to that. And he serves a lot better than I do. I was really struggling every time on my serve.

Black, ranked No. 70, joined a long list of Sampras' victims in the Open over the years. This hard surface, which allows Sampras to serve and volley or play from the baseline if he has to, is almost as perfectly suited to his game as Wimbledon's grass.

"Nothing seems to phase him too much," Black said. "You can break his serve and he still comes back firing."