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WIMBLEDON READIES FOR STAR-SPANGLED BATTLE

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Jim Courier is surprised he'll be on Centre Court in the Wibledon final. He figure he'd be on the golf course by now.

"I've been in the finals of the other Grand Slams but this feels different," Courier said. "I'm more suprised than anything. I thought I would be playing morrow afternoon. Even before the tournament, I thought I would be getting a lot of golf time."Instead, he'll face Pete Sampras on the Fourth of July in the first all-American final since 1984. Only twice before in the 116-year history of the tournament have two Americans met for the men's title on Independence Day.

The match also will have a bearing on who will be No. 1 in the world. Courier can replace Sampras as No. 1 by winning title.

The top-seeded Sampras, noted for his serve-and-volley game, is the favorite. But No. 3 Courier hopes to emulate Andre Agassi, another American baseliner who surprised people by winning the title last year.

Sunday's match will feature Sampras' big serves and Courier's deadly returns.

History would appear to be against Sampras because the last time a No. 1 seed won the title was in 1984 when John McEnroe triumphed. But Sampras has a 7-2 career record against Courier and has won all three finals in which the two have met.

The two Americans reached the final by elminating former champions in the semifinals. Sampras downed three-time titlist Boris Becker in straight sets and Courier rallied from a set and 0-2 down to beat two-time champion Stefan Edberg.

Sampras and Courier have won other Grand Slam titles but neither had previously made it to the Wimbledon final. Sampras won the U.S. Open in 1990 and courier has collected two French Open and two Australian Open titles.

But Sampras said this final will have a different feeling for him.

"The difference is that you are one match away from winning the biggest tournament in the world." Sampras said. "I don't know how I'm going to feel (on the day). I haven't been in this situatin before."

Sampras and Courier are friendship.

"We've had our tough battles in the past and it's just a game," Courier said. "There are more important things in life. It should be fun.

Courier's mother, Linda, said, "Friendship goes out the window. he is going to fight."

The last time two Americans met in the final was when McEnroe downed Jimmy Connors in 1984. The two occasions Americans met for the title on July 4 were in 1947, when Jack kramer beat Tom Brown, and in 1982 when Connors downed McEnroe.