Agassi Gives U.S. a 2-0 Lead : Davis Cup: He beats Edberg after Courier gets past Kulti in best-of-five semifinal.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Here where the leaves are starting to turn yellow, it's starting to look pretty rosy for the U.S. Davis Cup team, which declared open season on Sweden.

With Jim Courier hitting lead-off and Andre Agassi batting cleanup, the U.S. team worked long and hard Friday night and took a 2-0 lead in their best-of-five match semifinal.

Agassi defeated off U.S. Open champion Stefan Edberg, 5-7, 6-3, 7-6 (7-1), 6-3, to follow Jim Courier's 4-6, 7-6 (7-2), 6-3, 7-5 victory over Nicklas Kulti.

Agassi's eighth consecutive Davis Cup victory puts the United States in a position to clinch with a win in the doubles today, but Agassi said he isn't going to take anything for granted.

"We're still thinking about a fourth or fifth match," he said. "We still want to close it out (today), but there's no way this weekend is even close to being over with."

In 2 hours 56 minutes, Agassi rebounded from a first set in which he said he felt "creepy" and turned the match around in the third set. The key moments occurred when he broke Edberg for 3-4, saved three break points for 4-4 and eventually romped in the tiebreaker.

"I think he got a little discouraged in the fourth set," Agassi said.

Edberg's serve, which was about his only problem winning the Open, failed him again against Agassi--seven double faults to go with five aces. In fact, Edberg double-faulted on break point to put Agassi back on track in the third set.

Courier made it harder than it had to be, conducting a 3-hour 41-minute high-wire performance while managing not to fall off.

Oh, he came close, all right. Kulti, a curly-haired 21-year-old, served for the second and fourth sets and blew both of his chances.

Said Courier: "He holds two more service games and I'm sitting here with a frown instead of a smile."

Said Kulti: "If I win the second and fourth sets, I have won three sets and I have won the match."

But he didn't.

On the other hand, Courier played just good enough to win. As soon as he whacked a rare forehand winner on match point, he ran over to John McEnroe and leaped into his arms.

How did he choose McEnroe?

"You don't decide those things, it was just instinct," Courier said.

Most of the time, the basic instinct Courier lacked was of the killer variety. Kulti played Courier pretty much the right way--he hit to his backhand, came in on his backhand--but simply missed out on the opportunities he had to defeat him.

Losing his serve when he had the chance to take the second and fourth sets was not because he was tight, Kulti insisted.

"I wasn't that tight, he just played better in those two games . . . unfortunately," Kulti said.

Maybe. But Courier still appeared very much like a struggling player very fortunate to win. He had only 15 winners off the forehand side, a decidedly low number for him, but he served 15 aces to get himself a nice amount of free points.

Davis Cup Notes

Who will be Pete Sampras' doubles partner today? There is a chance it won't be John McEnroe, as advertised. Instead, Jim Courier could step in to team with Sampras against Stefan Edberg and Anders Jarryd, the pair Courier and Sampras defeated in the Olympics. Apparently, Courier wants to make the change and McEnroe has agreed to step aside. If Courier does supplant McEnroe, it would help out on a couple of counts--Courier gets an early look at Edberg's serve and Sampras doesn't have to be a lab experiment. Sampras, who has played two tournament doubles match this year, has never played a doubles match with McEnroe and they have played poorly in practice this week. It is Tom Gorman's idea to team singles players instead of naming a doubles team per se. If Sampras does play with McEnroe, whether such a plan succeeds depends on Sampras. "I'm basically the guinea pig," Sampras said. "It's going to be different. I'm a singles player that's trying to play doubles." Sampras isn't sure how he would do alongside McEnroe. "I consider him the best doubles player to ever pick up a racket. Maybe I'll feel a little bit unfamiliar playing with him. I don't know. Hopefully I'll be pretty relaxed. We'll give it our best shot. Hopefully we can work it out while we're out there. Hopefully, we'll just kind of connect." . . . Attendance in the 16,000-seat Target Center was 12,604.

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