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COURIER WINS FRENCH OPEN SLUGFEST

In a match that changed course as often as the stormy weather, Jim Courier rallied in the last two sets Sunday to win a French Open slugfest and again deprive boyhood rival Andre Agassi of his first Grand Slam title.

On a day mixing rain, sunshine and strong winds that caused virtual sandstorms on the clay courts, Courier won 3-6, 6-4, 2-6, 6-1, 6-4 in his first Grand Slam final.The first all-American final at Roland Garros since 1954 ended on an ace by Courier, who flopped backward onto the soft clay in triumph. He ran under the stands to celebrate with coach Jose Higueras and then tossed his white baseball cap to a fan.

"There have been lots of happy moments in my life and there will be lots more, but at the moment this is the happiest," said Courier, who started the year ranked 25th but now will jump to No. 4 - dropping Agassi to fifth. "For me this is extraordinarily special."

The 20-year-old Courier had never reached the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam tournament before last week, but he was more poised than Agassi after a pair of second-set rain delays. While the Floridian seemed to relax after the breaks, Agassi never was able to regain control of the match.

"I felt like if it hadn't rained, I could have kept my momentum, but who knows how long that would have lasted?" Agassi said.

"The rain delays hurt us a little bit, but that's life. That's the way it goes," added Nick Bollettieri, who coaches Agassi and used to train Courier.

In the fifth set, gusty winds changed the course of many shots and made it difficult for the players to see.

"A lot of dust was flying around in my face," said Agassi, who has lost three Grand Slam finals in the last year. "Today was a question of who was going to adapt to the circumstances better. You can't control the wind, you can't control where the ball bounces."

Courier decided seven years ago to play tennis instead of baseball, but he has a pitcher's mannerisms on the court - tapping the bill of his cap and smoothing the dirt with his foot before serving. He used a baseball analogy to describe the weather.

"It's like facing Phil Niekro out there with his knuckleball," he muttered to himself after losing a point in the third set.

Courier and Agassi, who trained and briefly roomed together at Bollettieri's tennis academy in Florida, have similar styles. They clobber the ball with both forehand and two-handed backhand and try to dictate the game from the baseline.

Though the ninth-seeded Courier tried serve-and-volleying in the opening set, he retreated to the baseline after the rain delays. From there he won a heavyweight battle of groundstrokes.

Courier, who now has won all four of his career finals, pocketed $451,660 dollars - more than he made all of last year. Agassi won $225,830.

For Agassi, it was the second straight year he had lost a French Open final to an underdog. He lost in four sets last year to Andres Gomez, and then lost to Pete Sampras in the U.S. Open final last September.

Like Courier on Sunday, Gomez and Sampras were playing in their first Grand Slam finals when they defeated Agassi.

"Who knows how many shots you have? I've been fortunate to have three finals, but it's disappointing," said Agassi. "The pessimistic side of me will always have questions."