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Courier learns French lessons from Higueras

Jim Courier may have won the French Open in an upset Sunday, but for coach Jose Higueras it was no big surprise. Two years ago, the Spaniard was behind another all-but-unknown winner at Roland Garros, Michael Chang.

"Jose is two-for-two," said Courier after beating Andre Agassi. "That's quite a feat.

"It is really special that I can share it with Jose because he is one hell of a guy," added Courier, who will rise five places to fourth in the world after his win. "He really taught me to play tennis instead of just hitting the ball."

Higueras himself made the semifinals of the French Open twice. He was beaten by Guillermo Vilas in 1982 and by Mats Wilander a year later.

But Higueras shrugs off his double coaching success in France.

"I don't think there is any secret," he said. "I think I was lucky that I got two good players. They are both good fighters and good competitors. All I did was try to give them as much information as I could from my experience when I was playing."

Higueras took advantage of two rain breaks in the second set of Sunday's final to advise Courier on a change of tactics.

"I didn't like what I saw in the first set and a half," Higueras said. "He was playing into Andre's hands."

The advice paid off.

"Jose told me I needed to back up a little bit on his serve because I was getting hurt," Courier said. "That really was the turnaround for me."

Higueras felt Courier's win was well-deserved. "He is the best player that I have worked with in terms of dedication," he said.

Higueras' work with Chang and Courier has transformed the American Davis Cup team, once regarded as easy prey on slow clay courts but now the reigning champions.

"There was a point when people were taking advantage of our players on clay," said the California-based Higueras, who works for the United States Tennis Association.

"But now with Chang, with Andre, with Jim, I think we will have a much better chance," he said, ignoring the irony that the U.S. will meet his native land in the second round of the Davis Cup in Rhode Island next weekend.

Asked where his loyalties would lie next weekend, Higueras said: "I am loyal to the people that I work for. I really like Spanish players to win unless they are playing one of my people."