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LITTLE-KNOWN ITALIAN WHIPS COURIER; SAMPRAS CRUISES

Cruising for bruisings in the U.S. Open: There was Jim Courier getting clobbered in the stadium, Andrei Medvedev crumbling in the grandstand, Wimbledon champ Conchita Martinez and Mary Joe Fernandez reeling.

It was a Friday afternoon of sunshine and sucker punches, players hardly anyone ever heard of sneaking up and knocking out four big names.Defending champion and top seed Pete Sampras had no such problems at night, serving 17 aces and neatly dismissing a potential threat in Daniel Vacek, 6-3, 6-4, 6-3 in just over an hour and a half.

Sampras, whose injured left ankle sidelined him for six weeks before the tournament, looked much more impressive in his second match against a player ranked No. 54 than in his first against a less challenging qualifier.

Courier's lassitude caught up to him against a fiery, fist-pumping young Italian, 21-year-old Andrea Gaudenzi, who took out the No. 11 seed 7-5, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 in the second round - the same round Courier lost in at Wimbledon.

Karel Novacek played one of the best matches of his life to beat Medvedev 6-3, 6-2, 6-2, then pronounced, to no one's surprise, "I feel fantastic. I played, like, no mistakes."

Feeling pretty fantastic, too, were Californian Ginger Helgeson, who toppled women's No. 3 Martinez 3-6, 6-4, 6-1, and Ohio native Ann Grossman, who upset No. 9 Fernandez 6-4, 6-4.

Not all the seeded players fell. No. 4 Michael Stich looked strong and quick in a 6-1, 6-4, 6-2 victory over Steve Bryan, and No. 5 Stefan Edberg looked even tougher in a 6-2, 6-3, 6-2 victory over Jeff Tarango.

Three women's seeds cruised comfortably. No. 2 Arantxa Sanchez Vicario beat Sandra Cecchini 6-2, 6-1; No. 5 Kimiko Date beat Lisa Raymond 6-4, 6-2 and No. 8 Gabriela Sabatini beat Isabelle Demongeot 6-0, 6-2.