Jim Courier: the Entrepreneur
The 1992 and 1993 Australian Open Men’s Champion Jim Courier has been a strong presence in tennis since retiring without overshadowing active players. Although Courier made his Grand Slam breakthrough in Paris on red clay, I think the Australian Open best meshed with Courier. His off season preparation left Courier ideally positioned for solid showings in Melbourne. The hot conditions and slow court were optimal for his grinding and counter punching.
Courier made his first strong impression Down Under with a tough 5 set loss to then world #1 Stefan Edberg in the 1991 round of 16. Courier proceeded to beat Edberg in 4 sets en route to his first Grand Slam title at the 1991 French Open. Edberg won the 1991 rubber match with a decidedly one-sided US Open final. Courier looked to be in serious trouble when he set up a rematch with Edberg at the 1992 Australian Open. However, slower courts gave Courier a better look at returns and passing shots. Courier also used a one handed slice backhand surprisingly well. Courier prevailed in 4 tight sets to more or less lock up the #1 ranking. It is easy to forget that in the span of 10 Grand Slams from the French Open 1991 through Wimbledon 1993 Courier won 4 slams and was runner-up at 3 others. Courier would repeat his victory over Edberg one year later. His second title also came with a 4 set victory, but Courier dominated the second encounter. The court was ridiculously hot, but Courier was so fit his level of play did not suffer much in 1993.
Courier would never win in Australia again, but he did reach the semifinal round in 1994. He lost an instant classic 5 set tilt with Pete Sampras in 1995 and lost another 5 set match to Andre Agassi in 1996. Courier has been a fixture on Australian television since retiring. He helped get player contributions to ebay auctions for Tsunami relief in 2005. This may have been the germination of the 2010 Hit for Haiti. Courier’s fitness and Harry Hopman influenced style fit Australia well.
Jim Courier has launched some music related ventures. However, his 2007 documentary Unstrung chronicled the odd life that elite junior tennis players lead. It is interesting to me that both Agassi and Courier came up through the cauldron that was the early tennis academy system in the US. Each man went on to do a reflective piece on life as a junior tennis player. Agassi focused on an autobiography and Courier focused on telling the story of younger players. Courier’s company Inside Out Sports Entertainment missed out on the ESPN 30 for 30 series, but one could easily see Courier doing an insightful program focusing on some little known aspect of tennis.
Inside Out Sports Entertainment also relaunched a senior tennis tour in the United States. This tour has been flexible enough to transform from a week long tournament based tour to morph into a one night event that gives fans 3 sets of quality tennis with 4 players contesting a mini-tournament. The longer a match goes the worse the senior players look in comparison to current players. This adaptation will likely make the senior tour viable for years to come. Since Roger Federer is technically old enough to play on Courier’s tour (as is Lleyton Hewitt) and Andy Roddick is close to being eligible, Courier can continue the good vibes.
Courier’s post-retirement career also included helping Patrick McEnroe with Davis Cup and eventually becoming the US Davis Cup captain. Announcing duties, musical ventures, documentaries, and Davis Cup coaching have placed Courier in an interesting spot for former players. I should add that Courier also taught himself French. All of this adds up to Courier being the multifaceted renaissance man of tennis.