Dade City's Jim Courier blasted top-ranked Stefan Edberg out of the French Open with powerful groundstrokes and unreturnable serves, but he needed a bit of luck to finish off his quarterfinal victory Wednesday. Courier reached his first Grand Slam semifinal, where he will face Michael Stich of Germany, by undermining the Swede's serve-and-volley game in a 6-4, 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 triumph.
Courier, 20, kept his shots low and deep, preventing Edberg from rushing the net. And when the top seed did head for the net, Courier sent passing shots by him on both sides.
"I had to keep him off of the net. I just had to play my game effectively to do so," said Courier, who did an impromptu war dance on the court after wrapping up the match. "Once I started rolling my serve in, I felt like I was going to win 55 percent of the points from the back court, which is enough."
Edberg will lose his No. 1 world ranking to Boris Becker if the German defeats Andre Agassi in the other men's semifinal, even if Becker loses in the final. The rankings are based on a player's top results from the past 12 months.
"I missed a lot of shots by an inch or two," Edberg said. "There wasn't much difference today, but he had a little bit of luck."
Courier got his biggest break in the seventh game of the final set when a shot mistakenly went off his racket frame and popped over Edberg's head for the decisive service break.
"That wasn't what I meant to do," said Courier, who blew a kiss to the sky to show his gratitude for the lucky shot. "I hit it with the expensive part of the racket, which is not the strings."
He reached match point when the umpire overruled a line call, and then hit the sideline with a passing shot to wrap up the victory.
"That was typical of the match," Edberg said. "I just missed, and he hit the line."
Stich, the 12th seed, overwhelmed unseeded Franco Davin 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 in 1 hour, 47 minutes. He lost only eight points on his own serve in the final two sets and his backhand was too powerful for the Argentine.
The match was a contrast of two tennis cultures. The 6-foot-4 Stich, like compatriot Becker, is a serve-and-volleyer who can dominate on any surface. Davin is a typical South American baseliner.
The other men's semifinal Friday also will pit a German against an American, as well as two of the hardest hitters in tennis _ Becker vs. Agassi.
Courier, who has toiled for years in the shadow of boyhood rival Agassi, chose tennis over baseball when he was 13. But he takes a little bit of the diamond with him on the tennis court.
The blond power-hitter wears a white baseball cap and tugs at it, like a nervous pitcher, between points. He spits on the ground and smooths the clay before serving, like an anxious batter.
"When you go up to serve, it's a lot like being a pitcher," he said. "You vary your speed, you vary your pitches and vary the spots. If not, the guy hits it out of the park on you.
"And when you return serve you're like a batter. You've got to get some wood on the ball."
It was his sinker that made the difference Wednesday. Returning balls at Edberg's feet, he kept the top seed from controlling the game at the net.
Edberg won only 19 points in the 35 times he rushed the net and was kept back on his heels by Courier's hard serves. But there was one part of Courier's game that didn't impress Edberg _ his outfit.
Asked what Courier looked like on the court, with his shirt hanging out and the cap over his blond curls, Edberg deadpanned: "He looks like an American to me."
Women's semis could
decide who is No. 1
PARIS _ In the women's singles semifinals, they're looking out for No. 1. Three of the four players left in the French Open have a shot at the top ranking, besides winning a Grand Slam title, when they take the court today.
Monica Seles, top-seeded and No. 1-ranked, will play third-seeded Gabriela Sabatini in one semifinal, and second-seeded and No. 2-ranked Steffi Graf will face Arantxa Sanchez Vicario in the other.
Here are the possibilities for No. 1, depending on who wins in the semifinals:
Seles-Graf final: Winner is No. 1.
Sabatini-Graf final: Graf No. 1, win or lose.
Seles-Sanchez Vicario final: Seles No. 1, win or lose.
Sabatini-Sanchez Vicario final: Sabatini No. 1, win or lose.
Seles is 3-2 against Sabatini, but Sabatini won their last meeting 6-3, 6-2 in the Italian Open final, which is also their only previous encounter on clay.
Graf is 10-1 against Sanchez Vicario, but the exception was a big one _ the 1989 French Open final when, as a 17-year-old, Sanchez Vicario scored a 7-6 (8-6), 3-6, 7-5 upset.
If Sanchez Vicario requires another source of inspiration, she need look no further than their last match, the final of the Lufthansa Cup in Berlin last month, when Graf escaped with a 6-3, 4-6, 7-6 (8-6) decision.
_ Information from the Los Angeles Times was used in this report.