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Pete Sampras and Jim Courier, who owned the Australian Open f

January 18, 1995

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) _ Pete Sampras and Jim Courier, who owned the Australian Open for the past three years, played today as if they got the message: don’t let down.

Sampras, the defending champion and top seed, and Courier, who won the Grand Slam tournament in 1992 and 1993, steamrolled through straight-set victories and into the third round.

Boris Becker’s loss to Patrick McEnroe in his first-round match Tuesday appeared to send a warning out to other top seeds: Don’t take anyone for granted.

Sampras and Courier took heed, Sampras beating Slovakian qualifier Jan Kroslak 6-2, 6-0, 6-1 in 76 minutes, and Courier taking just four minutes longer to beat Italy’s Cristiano Caratti.

``Everyone can lose to anybody if the other guy is playing really well,″ said Courier, who watched the Becker-McEnroe match. ``Patrick just played a great match, so that was a tough draw for the first round.″

Others also learned from the Becker upset, plus losses Tuesday by fourth-seeded Goran Ivanisevic and women’s fifth seed Gabriela Sabatini.

No. 5 Michael Chang and No. 7 Michael Stich advanced today, as did women’s No. 2 Conchita Martinez, No. 3 Jana Novotna, No. 6 Lindsay Davenport and No. 7 Kimiko Date.

Fourth seed Mary Pierce of France beat South African Elna Reinach 6-1, 6-2 and Chang beat Morocco’s Karim Alami 6-3, 6-4, 6-1 in night matches. Earlier, Switzerland’s Martina Hingis, the 14-year-old playing her first Grand Slam tournament, lost in the second round to Kyoko Nagatsuka, 6-3, 6-4.

Pierce said she’s playing with renewed confidence.

``I think a lot has changed, and last year was a great year for me. I won a lot of things in my tennis and off the court, and I think as a person and as a tennis player I’m more confident with myself.″

There has been much said about Pierce’s relationship with her father, Jim, who once coached her and was eventually banned from attending her matches. But she credits her dad, who she says she phones often, with giving her a good start in her career.

``He pushed me really hard, which I don’t regret,″ Pierce said. ``I think it’s something very good actually, because I think he gave me the hard work ethic.

``In the eight years that I was with him, I probably played 15 years’ worth because I put so many hours in. So I think I perfected my strokes pretty much then.″

Sampras and Courier said the relaxed atmosphere and friendly crowds have helped them play better.

``It’s always nice to have that support when you are playing,″ Sampras said of the warm reception he’s accorded at the National Tennis Center. His parents are Greek-American, and no city outside Greece has more Greeks than Melbourne’s half-million.

Courier, meanwhile, likes the quietness in the locker room and lounge.

``There’s a lot less business going on,″ Courier said. ``There’s a lot fewer agents and tournament directors and what not who are making deals, particularly in New York. As well, there’s much less family here for the other players. So for us around the restaurant and lounge, it’s a lot more relaxed.

``The U.S. Open, I call that place the shark tank. For every one player there’s three other people in there, so it’s tough.″

Courier is so relaxed that he’s found time to appear with several other players in a pickup band featuring reggae and classic rock ‘n’ roll.

``On Monday night, I went to a studio and played some drums with a few of the fellows and that was a blast,″ Courier said of the group that included Carlos Kirmayr and Ronald Agenor.

``I’m a professional tennis player and probably a B club drummer.″

Courier has moved out of the A ranks of men’s tennis, from No. 1 at the end of 1992, down to third in 1993 and 13th at the end of last year. It’s been a test of his resolve and could have been a test of some of his friendships.

``I think that I’m fairly difficult to befriend,″ Courier said. ``I’m pretty cynical. I don’t let people get too close to me that I feel are going to get close to me because of who my ranking says I am.

``I tend to stay around the same people, whether I’m ranked 15 or whether I’m ranked 1. I’ve got a lot of life to live after tennis and I hope my friends now are going to stay the same later.″

Courier, looking relaxed at a postmatch press conference, said he and Andre Agassi are becoming more alike.

``We both started at opposite ends of the spectrum and we’re probably each coming more into the middle,″ Courier said, bringing his index fingers together to make his point.

``He’s working a little bit harder, I’m taking a little more free time. I think we’re both trying to come to a middle ground.″

Courier, the ninth seed who is in Sampras’ half of the draw, could meet Agassi in the final. In the meantime, he’s happy to have a lot of attention directed at Sampras and Agassi.

``Whether the focus is on me or not, I tend to go about my business,″ Courier said. ``I think that the focus is deservedly on those two guys. They had great seasons last year and it is an exciting, hopefully a budding, new rivalry for the game that we desperately need.″

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