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So Much for Courier, Becker : Tennis: Pioline eliminates top-seeded player, then Larsson, ranked No. 60, takes care of fourth-seeded German.

September 08, 1993|THOMAS BONK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEW YORK — As dark clouds spread over the U.S. Open once again Tuesday, it was time for another fond farewell.

This is a tournament in danger of being known more for who is gone than who is left. So far, goodbys have been said to Andre, Stefan, Martina, Sergi and Ivan.

Shortly before the rain hit, it was time for someone else to go.

Au revoir , Jim.

Cedric Pioline, the 24-year-old son of volleyball-playing parents from Neuilly Sur Seine, France, spiked Jim Courier, the No. 1 player in the world, in the fourth round, 7-5, 6-7 (7-4), 6-4, 6-4.

Thus continued what has become a distressing streak of bad luck for the Open's No. 1-seeded men. It was the sixth consecutive year that the top-seeded player in the men's field failed to win the title.

Soon it was time for another big name to check out. Boris Becker was ushered forcefully out the door by 23-year-old Swede Magnus Larsson, who pinned a 6-2, 6-3, 3-6, 7-5 defeat on the No. 4-seeded player and 1990 champion.

Larsson, ranked No. 60, was a second-round loser here a year ago, but when he saw Becker hit a second serve on match point, returned it right at Becker's feet and then watched him send a hurried backhand wide, Larsson was in the big time.

Larsson, who will play Wally Masur in the quarterfinals, jumped the net and shook hands with Becker. That was easy enough, but he had no clue why he is still in the tournament.

"I don't know why I am playing so well," he said. "Of course, it's my biggest win. To (beat Becker) in a Grand Slam tournament he's won before, it's great. Nothing compares to this."

Becker felt the same way, but on the negative side. With Courier, Sergi Bruguera, Goran Ivanisevic and Ivan Lendl already out of his half of the draw, Becker knew he had not taken advantage of what looked like a clear path to the semifinals.

"I had a chance to go all the way and I blew it," said Becker, who had 10 aces, but eight double faults.

Larsson had 15 aces, only one double fault and owned a two-set lead in one hour and four minutes.

Said Becker: "I think a train hit me or something."

Courier didn't seem too devastated, perhaps because he really was not much of a match for Pioline.

As for explanations, Courier offered a brief one: "He didn't miss much."

It remains to be seen if Courier is going to miss out on the No. 1 ranking. Pete Sampras, who plays Michael Chang in the quarterfinals today, can move past Courier and regain the No. 1 ranking by reaching the final.

There isn't going to be any Open final for Courier this year, not after Pioline pushed him around the court with a variety of shots hit with all kinds of velocity.

The idea was to make Courier hit until he missed, and Courier cooperated. It was just one of those days, said Courier, who really hasn't had very many of them in an otherwise rock-solid year at the Grand Slam events.

Courier reached three Grand Slam finals and won at Australia, his fourth major title.

"Over a two-week period you are going to have one match where you don't play your best," Courier said.

"And to get through, you know, you have to win those matches. Most of the time I do, but today I didn't."

Pioline had something to do with the outcome. He saved four of the five break points against him, knocked 12 aces, won 53 of 66 points at the net and had 66 winners.

He also broke Courier's serve three times in the last two sets, right after he blew the second set after leading, 3-1, in the tiebreaker.

All in all, it was a joyous experience for the 6-foot-2 right-hander, ranked No. 14 and seeded 15th here.

"What can I say? I mean, I played on center court against No. 1 seed, I beat him, I just happy," said Pioline, who was bucking some pretty heavy statistics against Courier.

Not only was Courier 3-0 against Pioline, he had won five titles this year and hadn't lost a set in the tournament.

On the other hand, Pioline's reputation revolved around being the highest-ranked men's player never to have won a title.

Pioline didn't expect to win and neither did his coach, Henri Dumont, who flew back to Paris Tuesday and his other job as a business consultant.

Whether Pioline will join him anytime soon or possibly hang around and bid adieu to someone else the rest of the week, well, it remains to be seen.

Courier didn't sound totally convinced.

"Well, if he plays like today, he has got as good a chance as anybody," he said.

Tennis Notes

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