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FRENCH OPEN / MEN : Courier Reaches Final Again, but There's New Spin on Story


PARIS — It's another day, another final for Jim Courier, the blue-collar worker with the white cap who produces one French Open final after another, which probably means he's equally comfortable on a clay court or an assembly line.

For Courier, the French Open experience is not the view of the Eiffel Tower from the second deck, or the statues of the Four Musketeers in the plaza, or the croque-monsieur sandwiches at the concession stands.

No, it's something else. It's that terrific thrill you get when you reach way down, deep down, and make it to the final at Roland Garros for the third consecutive year.

Isn't it, Jim?

Actually, no.

"I don't really look at it as any different than playing in the first or second round," Courier said.

"It is not really old, it is not really new, it just is. It is just kind of . . . I don't know. It is going to work and clocking in, I guess."

So there you have it, the French Open reduced to a time clock. In the semifinals Friday afternoon, Courier, 22, punched his way past hard-serving Richard Krajicek, 6-1, 6-7 (7-2), 7-5, 6-2, setting up a topspin contest with Sergi Bruguera in Sunday's final.

Bruguera, 22, a clay-court spin doctor from Barcelona, bade adios to Andrei Medvedev in a breathtakingly routine 6-0, 6-4, 6-2 semifinal that was short on intrigue, short on shot-making and just plain short.

All it took for Bruguera to get into his first Grand Slam event final was 1 hour 30 minutes of watching Medvedev spray tennis balls all over the place. It wasn't totally his fault, Medvedev said later.

"I have to say that Sergi didn't let me to play today," Medvedev said. "I have to say I wasn't ready for the spin he give me. The rhythm was too high. My heartbeat was too fast. It is a good lesson."

On the other hand, Courier had better get ready, and quickly. At least he has a day to prepare for Bruguera's topspin-drenched ground strokes, which spin like a cue ball on a pool table.

Against Krajicek, Courier wavered only once, serving for the second set at 5-4 and missing. Courier knocked an easy forehand into the net for 30-30, double-faulted for break point, then watched Krajicek rocket a backhand pass down the line to make it 5-5.

Krajicek, momentarily heartened, romped through the tiebreaker, but immediately fell behind a service break to start the third set.

"That was just, you know, a shame, actually," said Krajicek, who seemed a step slow after playing three five-set matches before the semifinal. "Maybe if I got to a tiebreaker again, you never know what happens."

Instead, the reality of the situation came crashing down around his ankles, arriving in the form of yellow tennis balls that Courier kept knocking back off service returns.

"He really jumped on my serve pretty well," said Krajicek, who compares Courier's return ability with that of Andre Agassi, who is regarded by his peers as the best.

At 5-6, Courier closed out the third set with consecutive screaming backhand returns that nose-dived at Krajicek's feet.

After that, Courier put it on cruise control, finished Krajicek in 2 hours 55 minutes and set his sights on holding up the Musketeers Cup for the third consecutive year.

Courier said the key to a successful return of serve is taking proper aim.

"I was aiming for the court," he said.

And his next target must be Bruguera, the first Spaniard to make the French Open final since Manuel Orantes lost to Bjorn Borg in 1975 in four sets.

Bruguera, seeded 11th, had lost all three of his previous meetings with Medvedev, each on clay, but charged ahead under a full head of steam. Going into the final, Bruguera has won five 6-0 sets.

In advance of a Courier-Bruguera final, be advised that Courier has not lost in the French Open since Agassi eliminated him from the fourth round three years ago. Courier is unbeaten in 12 matches on clay this year. Bruguera is 28-6 on clay.

Said Medvedev, whose two French Opens have been ended by Courier and Bruguera: "I think it will be a great match . . . I advise you to watch it."

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