Courier outslugs Agassi in heavyweight battle Top seed reaches semis in 4-set win

September 10, 1992|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,Staff Writer

NEW YORK -- They walked on the court like two heavyweight boxers ready to go 15 rounds for a title, and, all of a sudden, they owned the stadium.

That was what this night was about. There were bright lights and an even brighter moon, and a stadium packed so tight that fans were sitting in the aisles.

But the stars were right on the court, dressed in outfits dipped in designer colors, wearing baseball caps tugged down tight around their foreheads. For the first time since they ripped the U.S. Open out of Forest Hills and brought it to this public park called the National Tennis Center, the headliners weren't a Connors or a McEnroe.

Jim Courier and Andre Agassi played to every corner of the building and grabbed hold of the sport.

For 3 hours and 47 minutes, they unloaded ground strokes like so many body shots, pushing one an other all over the court, and shoving the sport up another level.

And when it was over, Courier was the last man left standing, winning this U.S. Open quarterfinal, 6-3, 6-7 (6-8), 6-1, 6-4.

The victory put Courier into Saturday's semifinals where he'll meet Pete Sampras, the 1990 champion.

Sampras rolled over Alexander Volkov, who played as if he were in the quarterfinals of the Croatian Open, not the U.S. Open. Volkov, of Russia, took the money and ran, presumably to the nearest Aeroflot counter, after losing, 6-4, 6-1, 6-0.

But the main event was Courier and Agassi. Their styles may be the same, but their personalities clash.

Courier is the player for the purists. Agassi is the player for the stars. Courier is No. 1, the winner of three Grand Slams. Agassi is No. 8, the unofficial tennis endorsement champion who said he is now "validated" as a tennis pro for his Wimbledon victory.

"My concern was to come out here and give it my best," Agassi said. "Even though I had my chances, it's never easy to lose."

Courier gave Agassi all these punishing serves and kept blasting away at Agassi's returns. And he was simply the tougher player on the toughest points. "You can't look me in the eye and tell me I didn't play well," Courier said. "If you do, I'd say you were a liar or you didn't know much about tennis."

It was a terrific drama played out under a cloudless night sky. "I was hearing so much about the match, I wanted to buy a ticket," Agassi said.

The moments they'll remember out of this match were in the second-set tiebreaker. For the first time since he started playing New York, Agassi showed he had some heart. Down 3-6, the show in danger of coming to a premature close, Agassi fought with guts and daring.

There was this point you didn't want to end, Courier serving, Agassi coming in for a backhand volley. And Courier chased it down, clubbing this backhand cross court, the crowd starting to rise, and back came Agassi, still in the point, popping this backhand down the line, and then watching as Courier punched a volley into the net.

"I just choked it," Courier said.

And with all that, Agassi was still behind 4-6. But now, the crowd was screaming his name, and Agassi was charging, dumping in volleys, a backhand to 5-6, a forehand that clipped the net to 6-6, and the stadium was shaking.

And then he won the tiebreaker. Pulled it out with a forehand into the open court to 7-6, and then hung on the baseline in a rally and goadedCourier to hit a forehand wide.

Agassi punched the air, and Courier started acting like Gary Cooper, pacing around, tugging at his cap.

And then, Courier just about ran the table. He knocked Agassi around in the third set. And he closed the match out in the fourth set, getting one last break to go up 5-4, finally, serving it out by smashing in his 20th, 21st and 22nd aces, and then watching as Agassi blasted one last forehand return long.

Courier needed fluids and plenty of pacing after the match. And all Agassi could talk about was how he needed to get stronger to beat his one-time training partner. But for one night, they gave the game a ride. Agassi and Courier. The headliners. The new stars of American tennis.

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