American tennis player
Jim Courier, arguably the world's best men's tennis player for one all-too-brief period in the early 1990s, has always managed to keep things in perspective. Although he has not been the toast of the tennis world since the beginning of the first Clinton administration, Courier, who won both the French Open and Australian Open twice, has found a comfortable role on and off the court. He is again involved with the game he once dominated, while still pursuing other passions such as rock music.
Despite retiring from competitive tennis in 2000 at age 29—following a successful 12-year career—the temperamental and tenacious Courier continues to stay in the public eye. Courier introduced himself to the newest generation of tennis fans in summer 2001 when he signed a multi-year deal with Turner Sports to work as a television analyst, initially covering Wimbledon. Courier, about a year later, increased his tennis world profile when he agreed to assist U.S. Davis Cup captain Patrick McEnroe.
Courier finished with a 506-237 record, 23 singles titles and the four Grand Slams. He earned more than
$13.5 million in prize money and was ranked No. 1 in 1992. He also sported a 16-10 record in seven years in Davis Cup competition for the United States.
Raised in Florida
Courier had the benefit of working for responsive coaches. By age 11, he decided to forsake a promising Little League pitching career for tennis. He attended a tennis camp in Bardmoor, Florida, run by Harry Hopman, the successful coach of strong Australian Davis Cup teams in the 1950s and 1960s. Impressed by Courier's tenacity, Hopman convinced him to enroll for two years.
Growing up in Dade City, Florida, Courier was introduced to tennis by Emma Spencer, a great aunt who ran Dreamworld Tennis Club out of her home in Sanford. She was a former women's tennis coach at the University of Southern California. Courier inherited a strong arm from his father, an executive of a juice processing plant who had spent his college years pitching on a scholar-ship at Florida State University.
In 1986, Courier—a banger, not a finesse player—made good on Hopman's training and won the 14-and-under Orange Bowl championship, the World Series of junior tennis. That victory brought a invitation for Courier to train at the famed Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Bradenton, Florida, a hothouse for budding American tennis stars such as Andre Agassi (the teacher's pet and at one time Courier's roommate). Under Bollettieri's tutelage, Courier went on to win junior championships in 1986 and 1987, turning pro in 1988 at the Via del Mar Challenger event.
Soars to No. 1
When Courier dropped in rankings to No. 25 in the world in 1990, he teamed that November with Jose Higueras, then working with the U.S. Tennis Association player development program. Higueras, twice a French Open semifinalist, addressed the mental as well as physical parts of Courier's game. "Jose helped me see the game differently. He calmed me down a bit," Courier told the New York Times.
Courier became the world's top ranked tennis player for 58 weeks beginning on February 10, 1992, the peak of his career. "Are we surprised? Yes to put it mildly. You never allow yourself to look too far ahead. Even when he made the top 50, we didn't think of him becoming No. 1," Courier's father, Jim, told The New York Times when his son's top ranking was imminent.
His biggest victories were four Grand Slams, specifically the French Open in 1991 (defeating one-time camp roommate, Andre Agassi) and 1992 and the Australian Open in 1992 and 1993. He placed second in 1991 at the U.S. Open and at Wimbledon, as well as the 1993 French Open, which he captured the two prior years. "Courier is 110 days younger than Agassi, and he's nearly as crass, sassy and satorially dyslexic," Sports Illustrated 's Curry Kirkpatrick said in his report on the 1991 French Open final. Courier, whose record in Grand Slam matches was 118-38, also represented the United States in the 1992 Summer Olympic Games in Barcelona, Spain, and collected more than $13.5 million in prize money while on the professional circuit.
Dropoff in Play
However, his performance on the professional circuit fell into a steep, uncharacteristic dive following a strong start in 1993. Following the 1993 French Open in Paris, Courier "suddenly lost his edge. Despite taking frequent breaks to get his head and his game back together, Courier rarely has been a threat during the last five years, although he did comeback somewhat to reach the world's eight ranking in 1995," Hickok Sports wrote. To resurrect his career, Courier in 1997 parted ways with longtime coach Jose Higueras and decided to train with Harold Solomon, a former Top 10 player later credited with saving the career of Jennifer Capriati .
Courier excelled late his career on the Davis Cup team. By winning the deciding fifth sets of five-set matches in 1998 and 1999, he became the first American to do so since the competition originated in 1900. Other noteworthy twilight career achievements include winning the U.S. Men's Clay Court Championship in 1998 and a quarterfinalist showing at the duMaurier Open in Canada in 1999. But about nine months later, on May 8, 2000, Courier announced that he was retiring from professional tennis.
After retiring, Courier became coach of the U.S. Davis Cup team. "I think the players are happy, especially the younger players, to have Jim Courier around and have his insight and experience. When he talks, they listen," U.S. Captain Patrick McEnroe told the Associated Press upon Courier's appointment. "We want the guys to do well individually, but this is about the U.S. team, and who better epitomizes what the team is about than Courier?" McEnroe asked rhetorically.
|1970||Born August 17 in Sanford, Florida|
|1983-90||Trained at Nick Bollettieri's training camp in Bradenton, Florida|
|1988||Joins men's professional tennis tour|
|1990||Begins training with Jose Higueras|
|1992||Competes in Summer Olympic Games in Barcelona, Spain|
|1993||Loses French Open, Wimbledon finals; ranking drops to third|
|2000||Retires from competitive tennis|
|2001||Signs multi-year agreement with Turner Sports as analyst for Wimbledon coverage|
|2002||Named coach of U.S. Davis Cup team; Americans reach semifinals|
Awards and Accomplishments
|1986||Wins 14-and-under Orange Bowl championship, the World Series of junior tennis|
|1991||Ranked No. 2 among men worldwide at end of year|
|1991-92||Back-to-back French Open champion|
|1992||Ranked No. 1 most of year; named ATP Tour Player of the Year, Florida Pro Athlete of the Year and Jim Thorpe Player of the Year|
|1992||Competes on Davis Cup champion U.S. team|
|1992-93||Back-to-back Australian Open champion|
Brief but Noteworthy Reign
Courier's intensity may have contributed to the burnout that marked the beginning of his downfall. His reign at No. 1 was relatively brief, but noteworthy. Americans saw him as a standard-bearer, and one more than willing to represent his country in Davis Cup competition (an event some tennis stars avoid).
"For Courier, If It's Monday, It's Almost Time to be No. 1," New York Times (February 3, 1992).
Kirkpatrick, Curry. "It's Hammer Time." Sports Illustrated (June 17, 1991): 34-36.
Lidz, Franz. "Top Hat," Sports Illustrated (February 24, 1992).
"Courier Glad to be Helping Out," Slam! Sports, http://www.canoe.ca, (January 20, 2003).
Courier, Jim. "Wimbledon Still Stirs the Emotion of Its Players," USA Today, http://www.usatoday.com, (July 3, 2001).
Hickok Sports, http://www.hickoksports.com, (January 20, 2003).
"Jim Courier Biographical Essay." Biography Resource Center, http://galenet.galegroup.com, (January 20, 2003).
"Jim Courier Leaves Tennis." WBUR-FM, http://www.onlyagame.com, (May 11, 2000).
Jim Courier Profile, http://www.davidfosterfoundation.org, (January 21, 2003).
"Turner Sports Names Jim Courier Wimbledon Television Analyst," CNN-Sports Illustrated, http://www.sportsillustrated.cnn.com, (August 9, 2001).
Sketch by Paul Burton