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Sergi Bruguera, who struggled past Jim Courier in last year's French Open final, made it look easier this year, beating the American in a four-set semifinal today to move within a match of reclaiming the title.

The sixth-seeded Spaniard was far steadier in winning 6-3, 5-7, 6-3, 6-3 on a windswept Center Court. Courier, groping for the consistency that helped him win this tournament in 1991 and 1992, committed 64 unforced errors and eight doublefaults, to only 29 and one for his opponent.Bruguera will defend his title Sunday against the winner of a late semifinal between two unseeded players, 23rd-ranked Alberto Berasategui of Spain and 46th-ranked Magnus Larsson of Sweden.

Bruguera said his five-set victory over Courier last year was more difficult.

"I controlled the match better this time," he said. "I was feeling I had more power than him, I could move him around. He could not attack as well as last year, and that gave me more confidence."

"At times he pressed me. More often than not I just made loose mistakes," said Courier, the No. 7 seed. "What I lacked in the defining moments of the match was aggression.. I didn't play really badly, but I didn't play well."

Bruguera reached the semifinal without losing a set. Courier, though not as dominant, played well in a four-set victory over top-seeded Pete Sampras in a quarterfinal Tuesday.

In the first set, Courier double faulted twice in the third game as Bruguera broke for a 2-1 lead. Bruguera broke again in the ninth game to take the set.

With Courier down 2-1 and serving in the second set, he was called for a foot fault, swore at the judge who made the call and was given a warning for bad language. Annoyed, he committed four straight unforced errors to give Bruguera a 3-1 lead that the Spaniard soon extended to 5-2.

But Courier suddenly found his rhythm, broke Bruguera for the first time to pull within 5-4 and took the set by winning five straight games.

Both players seemed tense and erratic in the third set. Bruguera broke Courier for a 3-1 lead and Courier immediately broke back, only to lose his serve again in the sixth game.

Trailing 4-2, Courier got a break point, but couldn't convert. Bruguera served out the set, and headed toward victory by breaking Courier again in the first game of the fourth set.

In the last game, Courier double-faulted, then hit a backhand way long on match point.

It was a showdown between two of the strongest clay-court players in the world, with career records on the surface of 82-27 for Courier and 190-62 for Bruguera.

Bruguera's five-set victory over Courier in last year's final was his first win in five career meetings with the American and his first Grand Slam title. This year, both 23-year-olds were struggling - after winning five titles each last year, neither has won a tournament in 1994.

Courier was seeking his fifth Grand Slam title - in addition to his two crowns here, he won the Australian Open in 1992 and 1993. It was Courier's fourth straight trip to the French Open semifinals - he'd won the past three.

While Bruguera gets a chance to defend his crown, the women's final Saturday will have a fresh look.

Either Arantxa Sanchez Vicario will win a second Grand Slam title to go with her 1989 French Open crown or Mary Pierce will confirm her arrival as the new star so desperately sought by those who run the women's tour.

Even Steffi Graf, dejected after her worst defeat in three years, admitted that Pierce's rise is good for women's tennis.

Either Graf or Monica Seles had won each of the past 13 Grand Slam titles. At least one of them played in all but one Grand Slam final since mid-1987.

"It definitely has been very healthy, it is definitely exciting for the spectators here, also for television," Graf said of Pierce's surge. "I think it is a good thing . . . It is difficult for me to say that right now."

Until Pierce's 6-2, 6-2 defeat of Graf on Thursday, the women's field had produced few compelling matches. Most attention focused on Pete Sampras' failed pursuit of a fourth consecutive Grand Slam title.

Graf, thwarted in her bid for a fifth straight Grand Slam event, said it was too early to proclaim that Pierce would replace Seles as a new archrival.

"You have to take the results of all the year, and they haven't been all the way up there," Graf said. "You just have to give her some more time."

But Pierce, 19, said she would enjoy a long-term rivalry.

"That would be something fun to me," she said. "It would be something very hard for me also. I would have to stay concentrated and play at the same level I am playing now . . . ."

Pierce has lost only 10 games in six matches - a French Open record. So high was her level of play Thursday that she sensed Graf was looking forward to a rainshower that interrupted their second set.

"I think she was waiting for that," Pierce said. "I felt there wasn't much she could do because I was just playing so well."

Born in Canada and raised in Florida, Pierce has a French mother and plays for France. During matches, she yells at herself in both French and English.