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AILING AGASSI TO FACE COURIER FOR JAPAN OPEN TITLE

After new world No. 1 Andre Agassi looked solid Saturday in reaching the Japan Open final, he said a back strain will force him out of a tournament next week.

But Jim Courier, his opponent Sunday in this $1.2 million tournament, doesn't expect to gain any points from Agassi's back problems."For Andre to be in the final of this tournament indicates to me that his back is really not too bad," Courier said.

Agassi reached the final with a 7-5, 6-2 victory over third-seeded Wayne Ferreira of South Africa, the world's 10th-ranked player.

"I feel like I'm hitting the ball well," Agassi said, but added that his doctor, coach and manager "have been concerned with me just finishing this week" because of the back strain he sustained in preparations last month for the U.S. Davis Cup victory in Italy.

"I'll come out here and finish tomorrow, but I can't play next week at all," Agassi said. "The more fatigued it gets, the more you play on it, the worse it gets, and it can turn into something that could be chronic.

"I've got to take care of it."

Agassi said that after a couple of weeks of rest and treatment, he hoped to be back in action for a tournament in Atlanta May 1-7. He will miss next week's tournament in Hong Kong.

Ferreira, who now has lost five straight matches to Agassi, said the flamboyant American was hitting as well as ever from the baseline and serving better than in their past battles. Agassi put in 72 percent of his first serves to 56 percent for Ferreira.

Courier, who has slipped to 15th from his No. 1 ranking in late 1993, overcame fellow American Michael Chang 6-4, 7-5. He said it felt good "getting over the hump beating a top player in a big match."

"I haven't done it in a while," the fourth-seeded Courier said after beating second-seeded Chang.

Agassi gained the No. 1 ranking on Monday, toppling fellow American Pete Sampras after 82 weeks at the top. Courier is out to put that ranking in peril.

"I'm sure that's he's very confident because he's No. 1, and rightfully so," Courier said. "I'm very confident because I'm playing well right now."

Neither Agassi nor Ferreira had a break point until the 11th game, when Agassi created one with a forehand serve return winner. Ferreira then netted a backhand volley and Agassi served out the set.

Agassi broke again in the second set's first game after Ferreira had taken a 40-15 lead on three aces. At 40-30, Ferreira slipped while running along the baseline, hurt his foot and sent a backhand long. He then served two double faults, giving Agassi the game.