Jim Courier wandered out of his strange wilderness and into contention at the U.S. Open on Tuesday, thumping foot-sore French Open champion Thomas Muster in straight sets on a day when upsets reigned.
There was no indifference by Courier this time, none of the haphazard stretches or moody moments that have marked his descent in the rankings.
This time, for the better part of 2 hours, he was the Courier of old, drilling 10 aces, drumming baseline winners and reaching the quarterfinals with a 6-3, 6-0, 7-6 (7-4) romp over the No. 3 Muster, a clay-court specialist who ripped up his feet on these hot hardcourts.
Courier, No. 14, will find out just how far back he’s come when he plays his next match against No. 5 Michael Chang, a 6-2, 6-2, 4-6, 6-3 winner over Michael Tebbutt.
No. 2 Pete Sampras, getting better with every match, served 18 aces and breezed into the quarters with a 7-6 (7-4), 6-3, 6-4 victory over No. 15 Todd Martin.
“It’s hard when you have a pretty good idea of where the serve is going and it is still eating you up,” Martin said. “It gets to be a bit demoralizing.”
Sampras ought to be able to stroll into the semis past 70th-ranked Byron Black of Zimbabwe, who scored the day’s first upset, 6-4, 6-4, 3-6, 2-6, 6-3, against erratic 1994 runner-up Michael Stich.
“He doesn’t really serve that big, so I can get in on his serve,” Sampras said of Black. “But to beat (Thomas) Enqvist, who I think is one of the best players in the world, and to beat Stich today, he’s got to be oozing with confidence.”
Reaching the women’s semifinals were top-seeded Steffi Graf and No. 9 Gabriela Sabatini. Graf beat Amy Frazier 6-2, 6-3, and Sabatini downed Mary Joe Fernandez 6-1, 6-3, two days after Fernandez ousted defending champion Arantxa Sanchez Vicario.
“I’ve really progressed from match to match,” said Graf, who played a three-setter in the opening round and won every other match in straight sets. “My back is holding up really well.”
Graf has dominated Sabatini of late, but remembered losing to her in the 1990 Open final when Sabatini won her only Grand Slam title.
Muster never got his rhythm against Courier. Muster’s bleeding blisters were covered with a yard of tape, but for all it mattered he might as well have played barefoot the way little Byron Black used to do. Black, who’s grown up to all of 5-foot-9, pulled the first upset of the afternoon by sending the 6-foot-4 Stich packing.
“I played a lot of barefoot,” Black said of his youth on the grass courts his father, once a player at Wimbledon, installed back home in Zimbabwe when the African country was still called Rhodesia. “I have very high arches. I started getting a very bad heel, and then I had to play in shoes, although my dad didn’t like me tearing up his court too much.”
Courier and Muster waged a fierce baseline duel, slugging hard all the way, but Courier took more chances and put away far more winners - 42 to 14 - while out-acing Muster 10-0.
Once the best player in the game, the winner of four Grand Slam titles from 1991 to 1993, Courier lost in the second round of the Open a year ago and drifted in this year with few of the other players giving him a chance of winning.
But Courier said he started to feel good about his tennis a few days before the Open started.
“When I feel good,” he said, “I always play well.”
xxxx TUESDAY’S GLANCE Results - Men’s fourth round: No. 2 Pete Sampras, No. 5 Michael Chang and No. 14 Jim Courier advanced. Women’s quarterfinals: No. 1 Steffi Graf, No. 9 Gabriela Sabatini advanced. Today on Stadium Court: Monica Seles (2) vs. Jana Novotna (5), Conchita Martinez (4) vs. Brenda Schultz-McCarthy, Boris Becker (4) vs. Patrick McEnroe; (night) Andre Agassi (1) vs. Petr Korda, Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde vs. Grant Connell and Patrick Galbraith.