Sampras, Courier reach million-dollar final Lendl, Agassi fall in ATP semifinals FRANKFURT, Germany


FRANKFURT, Germany -- Pete Sampras, playing what he said were the two best sets of his career, beat Ivan Lendl, and Jim Courier defeated defending champion Andre Agassi yesterday to reach the final of the ATP World Championship.

Sampras used a powerful serve-and-volley game to beat Lendl, 6-2, 6-3. Courier, coming off a big season in which he has jumped to No. 2 in the world rankings, defeated Agassi, 6-3, 7-5.

Courier, the top seed, broke Agassi for a 4-2 lead and went on to serve out the first set.

Agassi broke Courier for a 4-2 lead in the second, but Courier broke right back in the next game and gained the decisive break in the 11th game. Agassi hit a smash deep into the corner, but Courier reached it and returned it to the opposite side. Agassi got to it, but hit the ball wide.

Courier is 4-4 against Agassi, but has won the last three matches, including the final of the French Open this year.

"I went for the big shots at the right moment, and they went in," Courier said.

Today's final -- the winner will receive $1.02 million -- will pit good friends and former doubles partners in a clash of styles, with Courier a baseliner and Sampras a serve-and-volley specialist.

"Pete is playing well, and I'm playing well," Courier said. "I'm going to have to serve well."

Sampras, at 20 the youngest player in the semifinals, beat Lendl, the oldest at 31, in only 68 minutes.

Lendl, making his 12th appearance in the season-ending event that he has won five times, was the only unbeaten player in group play to reach the semifinals. He had not lost a set.

But he couldn't cope with Sampras' powerful game.

"These were probably the two best sets I've ever played," said Sampras, the 1990 U.S. Open champion. "I was serving well, I was returning unbelievably. When you are that confident, you just go for it."

Sampras even hit an ace with his second serve in the fifth game of the second set.

"I was putting a lot of pressure on his second serve because I didn't want him to wear me down with long rallies," Sampras said.

Lendl said: "He couldn't do anything wrong. Everything he touched was good. Every time he needed a big first serve, he made it."

Argentina exhibition

Jose Luis Clerc defeated Jimmy Connors, 3-6, 6-3, 7-5, in the first of two exhibition matches. The second match will be played today.

Clerc defeated Connors three times in championship matches, including the quarterfinals of the French Open in 1982.

Virginia Slims of Philadelphia


Jennifer Capriati overpowered Gabriela Sabatini with her backhand passing shots last night to move into today's final against top-seeded Monica Seles.

Capriati was a 6-3, 6-4 winner of her semifinal in the $350,000 event. Seles reached her 16th straight final this year with a 6-1, 6-2 victory over Arantxa Sanchez Vicario.

Seles, who needed only 65 minutes to beat No. 3 Sanchez Vicario, has won eight tournaments in 1991 en route to the world's No. 1 ranking.

"It's amazing," Seles said. "Last year, my goal was to get to the semifinals or final of every tournament and I've kept that with me this year. I've been a little lucky."

Capriati and Seles last met in the semifinals at the U.S. Open, which Seles won, 6-3, 3-6, 7-6.

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