Jim Courier and Michael Chang, two players trying to return to form following injuries, won semifinal matches Saturday in the U.S. Men's Clay Court Championships.
Chang, the defending champion, beat Mikael Tillstrom of Sweden 6-3, 6-4 and Courier won the last five games to beat Andrei Pavel of Romania 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 to set up Sunday's all-American 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."
The 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 currently ranked 12th, is playing only his third tournament since partially tearing the medial collateral ligament in his left knee March 5.
Courier, once ranked the world's top player, injured his right arm last summer and has seen his ranking plummet to 57th.
Courier's come-from-behind win snapped the 24-year-old Pavel's nine-match winning streak.
"I wasn't playing poorly in the first set," said Courier, 27. "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 crosscourt 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."
Tillstromm's match against Chang was decided by missed opportunities. The 92nd-ranked Swede 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, 26, took an early 2-0 lead in the second set, but Chang won five of the last six games to finish the match.
MONTE CARLO OPEN: Cedric Pioline of France saved two match points to defeat Alberto Bera-sa-te-gui of Spain, 6-3, 0-6, 7-6 (7-5) Saturday to move into the finals of the Monte Carlo Open in Monaco.
The other semifinal also went three sets, with Spain's Carlos Moya beating Richard Krajicek of the Netherlands 4-6, 6-1, 6-4.
The 10th-seeded Pioline lost nine straight games at one point and dug out from being 5-1 down in the third set, saving two match points in the eighth game.
"When I was 5-1 down I decided to play with my heart and not to think," Pioline said.
Berasategui, seeeded 12th, had been the hottest player in the early clay-court season, winning the Estoril tournament two weeks ago and losing to American Todd Martin in the Barcelona final last week.
"Maybe at 5-1 I got a little too confident," Berasategui said. "I had two match points."
That gave Pioline some life and he tied it at 5-all and it went to a tiebreaker.
Pioline jumped to a 3-0 lead but again Berasategui battled back to 5-5.
Two Berasategui errors gave Pioline the match. The mostly French crowd, which had been jeering and whistling his errors during his losing streak, suddenly were standing and cheering for the winner.