NEW YORK -- The American torch was passed yesterday. No, the great copper torch still remains atop the great copper arm in New York Harbor. They aren't running any Statue of Liberty plays at the U.S. Open.
The torch of American men's tennis went from Pete Sampras, the defending Open champion, to Jim Courier yesterday. Courier took it decisively, winning their quarterfinal match in straight sets, 6-2, 7-6 (7-4), 7-6 (7-5). In the other quarterfinal, Ivan Lendl defeated Michael Stich in their rain-delayed match from Wednesday night, 6-3, 3-6, 4-6, 7-6 (7-5), 6-1.
Despite this being Jimmy Connors' Open, Courier is running up an impressive match record here. He hasn't lost a set in five matches, the first man to make it to the semifinals without dropping a set since Lendl in 1987. Against Sampras he never lost his serve and Sampras only held one break point in three sets.
fTC Like Connors, Courier has steely determination. He owned the long rallies yesterday, staying tough from side to side, baseline to net. Sampras had beaten Courier a couple of times this summer and it just wasn't his serve, volley and ground strokes that won it for him.
"I wasn't there 100 percent every point," Courier said of those defeats. "Today, I made sure I was there 100 percent."
Sampras' serve wasn't working particularly well, and it forced him to stay on the baseline more than he would have liked.
"My serve let me down and I had to stay back," Sampras said. "He's stronger than me in the backcourt. I didn't have an opportunity to come in. I was on my back foot and he was on his front foot."
Mental toughness won it for Lendl. His match with Stich was stopped at 11:22 p.m. EDT Wednesday when light rain came a second time. After they split the first two sets, they were delayed for nearly 1 1/2 hours by rain. Then Stich had a break and was up 4-3, serving 40-15 in the third when they retired for the evening.
Stich went on to win the third set easily yesterday. The pair stayed on serve for 12 games in the fourth set and Stich saved a set point in the 12th game to send it to a tiebreaker.
Stich won the first three points of the tiebreaker, then Lendl won the next six and went on to win it 7-5. The tiebreaker broke Stich's resolve. "I choked," the Wimbledon champion said.
Lendl will play Stefan Edberg.
* ON WOMEN'S SIDE: Talk about age brackets. Martina Navratilova, 34, is the oldest competitor in today's semifinals, 12 years older than her opponent, Steffi Graf, and one year and eight months older than the combined ages of the other semifinalists, Monica Seles and Jennifer Capriati.
Seles, 17, and Capriati, 15, form the youngest semifinal in Open history. At 22 Graf is merely an old pro playing in her eighth Open.