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Courier, Chang show feat on clay

Jim Courier and Michael Chang, both trying to return to form after injuries, won semifinal matches Saturday in the U.S. Men's Clay Court Championships.

Chang, the defending champion, beat Mikael Tillstrom 6-3, 6-4, and Courier won the last five games to beat Andrei Pavel 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 to set up today's final.

"We know that when we go up against each other there's always a little extra fire," said Chang, who was Courier's roommate on the juniors circuit.

"I know I'm going to have to play smart tennis, particularly on clay, where you can't really expect to go out and blow somebody away. You have a little more time to react to shots and to prepare and the points tend to be longer."

Third-seeded Courier leads the series with top-seeded Chang 11-10, but they haven't played since Chang beat Courier 7-5, 6-2 in October 1996.

"Michael's a very cagey player," Courier said.

"You can never tell when he'll add a new wrinkle to his game and surprise you. I think it's a very crucial match for both of us because we both have had some problems, physical and otherwise up to this point this year."

Both players have struggled with injuries and seen their rankings fall. Chang, who's ranked 12th, is playing only his third tournament since partly tearing the medial collateral ligament in his left knee March 5.

Courier, once ranked world No. 1, injured his right arm last summer and has seen his ranking plummet to 57th.

Courier's come-from-behind win snapped Pavel's nine-match winning streak.

"I wasn't playing poorly in the first set," Courier said. "I played like two bad points, but I just couldn't capitalize on several break-point opportunities. He has a sweet backhand and was playing some sharp tennis out there."

With the score 2-2 in the final set, Courier worked his way to the net during a long rally to put away a forehand cross-court volley.

Courier went up 5-2 after chasing down a drop shot to set up a another winning volley. Courier then closed out the set by sprinting to retrieve another drop shot attempt on the fourth match point.

"This was a perfect match for me," Courier said. "I was playing a guy whose confidence showed. He was going for his shots. I like having a match like this because I had to step up my game and respond."

Tillstrom's match against Chang was decided by missed opportunities. Tillstrom squandered five break-point chances in the first set.

"I had those five break points in the first few games and didn't get one," Tillstrom said. "I was playing very well but when I looked up at the scoreboard I was losing 4-1."

Tillstrom took an early 2-0 lead in the second set, but Chang won five of the last six games to finish the match.