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Sampras Outlasts Courier

May, 1996

Paris - After five sets and 3 1/2 hours of bruising power tennis against old sparring partner Jim Courier, Pete Sampras looked like he could barely stand up.

Then he stepped up and banged his 28th ace, capping an emotional and exhausting comeback from two sets down Tuesday to reach the semifinals of the French Open for the first time.

After the ball whizzed past Courier to complete the 6-7(7-4), 4-6, 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 victory, the top seeded Sampras looked to the sky and held up his arms like a boxer signaling a knockout.

"I was very tired," Sampras said. "In the last set, my mind was kind of a blank. It was just adrenaline... just trying to guts it out."

Courier, who lost to Sampras for the 15th time in 18 matches, said he had seen it all before.

"Pete's a good actor, let's put it that way," he said. "Some people put up a front that they're tough, Pete puts up a front that he's hurting, but he still seems to fire those aces.

"You play for 3, 3 1/2 hours and you've got the guy by the neck the whole time and he just keeps firing. I must be missing something. My eyes are deceiving me if he can keep playing at that level looking like he's looking. I swear I'm not blind.

"You know he's tired, but it doesn't really matter because he's got a great heart. He really has a very strong heart and he's going to leave it on the court."

The match followed the same pattern of Sampras' epic win over Courier in the 1995 Australian Open quarterfinals. Then, Sampras was down two sets to love and won in five, cyring during the match because his coach Tim Gullikson had been diagnosed with brain cancer.

Gullkson died last month, and Sampras seems clearly intent on winning the French - the only Grand Slam tournament to elude him - in his coach's memory.

The win represented another claycourt breakthrough for Sampras, who beat another former two-time French Open champion - Sergi Bruguera - in the third round.

"I don't know if I really believed I could win these matches in the past against the Brugueras and Couriers," Sampras said. "Now I'm going out there, believing I can."

Sampras will next face the sixth-seeded Yevgeny Kafelnikov, the hard-hitting Russian who beat No. 13 Richard Krajicek 6-3, 6-4, 6-7(7-4) 6-2.