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COURIER STRUGGLES, WINS, THEN AGASSI DEFEATS EDBERG TO GIVE U.S. 2-0 LEAD

They went about it differently, but the end result was the same.

Jim Courier struggled mightily yet hung on to win. Andre Agassi was as creative as ever in winning.What it all means is the United States has a commanding 2-0 lead after the first day of the Davis Cup semifinal against Sweden.

Courier, the No. 2 player in the world, had to fight for his life before outlasting Nicklas Kulti, who is 71st in the world, in Friday's four-set opener at Target Center.

Kulti served for the second and fourth sets at 5-4, but he was broken each time. Courier, inspired by the crowd of 12,604 on those two occasions, went on to win those sets in a 4-6, 7-6 (7-1), 6-3, 7-5 victory.

"Nicklas probably played about as good as he can play. I didn't expect it to be like that," said a relieved Courier, the top American.

"That's a match you've got to win. You've got to beat their No. 2 guy. I didn't play very well. But I kept hanging in there. I made some shots and came together when I needed to."

Agassi, in a match of contrasting styles yet brilliant shotmaking by both players, defeated Stefan Edberg 5-7, 6-3, 7-6 (7-1), 6-3.

Edberg, the No. 1 player in the world, kept going after Agassi with his attacking, serve-and-volley game. But Agassi kept replying with better shots from the baseline, passing Edberg off both sides and winning several big points with his top-spin lob.

"I don't think Stefan or I necessarily played that great," Agassi said. "It was just a matter of who toughed it out through the tough areas of the match. When we got there, things went my way."

Agassi was at his toughest when serving at 3-4 in the third set. He was down love-40 but won five consecutive points to pull even before breezing through the tiebreaker.

In the final set, Agassi broke Edberg's first two serves in bolting to a 5-2 lead. He served out the match with a love game, finishing with a service winner.

Agassi's eighth consecutive Davis Cup victory takes the pressure off John McEnroe and Pete Sampras in Saturday's doubles match against the favored Edberg and Anders Jarryd.

However, Agassi said he might be paired with McEnroe. They teamed at the French and Canadian opens and did fairly well.

The doubles is of less importance now that Courier and Agassi won.

Courier was not his sharpest in the 3-hour, 41-minute opener. The 21-year-old Kulti was a last-minute selection to the Swedish team but showed no nervousness in playing his first Davis Cup match.

"I played good and I had chances (at 5-4) in the second and fourth sets," Kulti said. "But in those games, he returned (serve) very well and played very good on those key points."

For a time, it appeared that Courier was headed to defeat before he found enough energy to bounce back to win.

"I wasn't playing that poorly. It's just that he had nothing to lose and came out swinging as hard as he could because nobody expects him to win," Courier said. "It's easy to be the underdog. He had nothing to lose in this situation."

What helped pull Courier through when he needed it most was a boost from the mostly partisan crowd.