March 28, 2005
INTERNATIONAL TENNIS HALL OF FAME
BUD COLLINS: Ladies and gentlemen, I'm Bud Collins along with James Spencer Courier, who is in the Class of 2005, the International Tennis Hall of Fame, the 51st Anniversary of the Hall of Fame at Newport, Rhode Island. As most of you know, Jim has won four major championships - two French, two Australian - he's been on winning Davis Cup teams, No. 1 in the world, he's done just about everything. I first encountered him when he was winning the French Junior Doubles a long time ago. So we're opening it for questions. You all know what Jim has done, his accomplishments, he is open for questions.
JIM COURIER: Mr. Collins, would you like to open the floor?
BUD COLLINS: Well, I would say that my favorite Courier memory is the 1999 first-round Davis Cup in Birmingham, England, against Great Britain - not Neil Harman's (smiling). We were so nervous that we couldn't sit in our seats we'd been assigned. We went up on the photograph platform and stood for the third, fourth and fifth sets. The score was 2-All. He had to beat Greg Rusedski to make possible the 100-year presentation of the Davis Cup confrontation anyway of Australia and the United States that took place in Boston. So that, to me, was, I remember, I can still see it now, the low backhand return that Jim made on the essential breakpoint.
Q. He never hit a backhand, what do you mean?
JIM COURIER: Yeah, well, only when forced (smiling).
BUD COLLINS: So he's all yours.
Q. What would you say is the highlight for yourself, what do you think?
JIM COURIER: It's so difficult to pinpoint the highlights. I think Martina says it best when she says that she sees her incredible career as a body of work. Mine is obviously an abridged version of hers. But there is a specific moment that was a life-changer and a career-changer for me, and that's when I won my first major in Paris. That was a day that things really switched for me going forward, because there is a gulf between players who reach finals of majors and players that win them. The confidence I took from that somewhat unlikely at times win - I'm thankful that I had a rain delay that gave me a little bit of time to regroup and come back - having had that time to move forward, actually win that match, really propelled me for the next several seasons to be a major factor in the big events.
BUD COLLINS: That fellow was a forgotten guy now, Andre Agassi.
JIM COURIER: Yeah, a nobody (smiling). Unfortunately, I couldn't beat anyone of merit in my finals. That's just the way it turns out (smiling).
Q. Your whole career, it seems, has been one of, "Yeah, he's a really good player, but he's not a gifted player. He's going to have to outwork everyone else." You're 15, 16 years old, in Bradenton, and whatever personality you've got is dwarfed by the presence of Andre Agassi. He's got more publicity --
JIM COURIER: Sure, and deservedly so.
Q. There you were fighting against that, trying to get the same kind of recognition. What do you recall about that?
JIM COURIER: Well, I think, first of all, it's going to be a tough comparison for any player going up against Andre if you're in the personality and popularity side of that coin because Andre has been someone who's turned into an icon over and above the sport of tennis; we all recognize that. To circle back to the first point of whether I was pinpointed as someone who got there because of work as opposed to talent, I would say that there's no question that I worked, and that's part of my character and make-up. I will say that everybody works. From the beginning of tennis history, there's no one that woke up one day and became a tennis player because they wanted to be; they worked at it. It's not often as visible, and certainly the effort that I put in on court and the strain and the determination and the way the style that I play doesn't flow in the same respect that someone like Pete Sampras' game flows and, obviously, Roger Federer flows to a degree that we haven't seen. Having said that, I know, having spent a lot of my youth with Pete Sampras in the early stages of our career, how much effort he put into making his game look that effortless. So I think there's an easy statement: You can work as hard as you want, but you can't take a donkey to the Derby. It doesn't matter how hard you work if you don't have the skill to get there. Anyone who reaches the top of the mountain certainly has some sort of skill; others just make it look easier than I certainly did. I think that's fair to say.
Q. Given that, if you hadn't busted your ass for as much as you did for that concentrated period of time, would you have still got there?
JIM COURIER: No, of course not. My goal was not to reach No. 1. My goal was to become the best that I could be, and I think I certainly did that. I think that any time you set the goal to be No. 1 without the foresight to try and push yourself to be the best, you're going to probably fall short because it's just too much to think about, it's too much pressure. I think limiting your field of vision in some respects is the right way to approach it. But, yeah, I had to work to get there. Everyone has to work to get there across the board.
Q. One final follow-up, as you look back...
JIM COURIER: The Brick will not let go (smiling). Go ahead, Charlie.
Q. Looking back on those years, particularly say from '91 to '95, somewhere in that area, the runs after five-set matches, going out and running a couple of miles, going immediately into the weight room and lifting or something...
JIM COURIER: Which I never did, but that's a good myth. I like it. Keep perpetuating it (laughing).
Q. Can you believe you actually did all that as you look back?
JIM COURIER: Oh, sure. You know, the runs afterwards were merely a cool-down period for me. It wasn't something I was doing for fitness, it was something I was doing for recovery and for peace of mind, and it's something that I think several players have incorporated into their regime right now. I look back more on the things that I did on the weeks off with wonder, because that's where the real work happened. The rewards came at the tournaments. I didn't work hard at tournaments other than on the court match-wise. But the weeks off, when I had those weeks off, those were brutal. Those were the ones where I couldn't wait to get to a tournament just so I didn't have to suffer as much.
BUD COLLINS: Do you think you might have overworked yourself?
JIM COURIER: I think that if there's a line between underworking and overworking, there's no question that my needle was on the overwork side. I think that's a fortunate or unfortunate part of my make-up, is that I don't leave stones unturned. If I have a chance to practice or to prepare, then I will do so. But I think that as I matured in my career, that I recognized that rest was a very important part of my regime that I had omitted in the early stages, which everything is a learning process. As much as you would love to be able to go back and make those adjustments based on your knowledge, youth is wasted on the young.
Q. I mean, continuing in the Memory Lane theme, I remember I think it was 1986 Roland Garros, we were in a small interview room, you were the young kid on the block, a bit monosyllabic, didn't say a great deal. Now you've turned into this TV presenter, very good. The gesture, I thought, on Centre Court in Melbourne with Safin this year was great.
JIM COURIER: Thanks.
Q. Where would you like to take your career from here on in? How can you help, do you think, in promoting the sport?
JIM COURIER: Well, I think that sport, tennis has been my world and will continue to be my world. It's something that I've earned the right to participate in, but I also continue to want to earn the right to be a member of this tennis community. Everything that I have in my life, apart from my family, is as a result of tennis, and I recognize that, and I want to be involved in trying to help grow the sport as best I can. Whether it's promoting events, which I am doing right now as well with the company that I started in the last year, or continuing to dabble into television commentary at appropriate times to try and bring the public into a viewpoint that I see - and hopefully they'll get some inside knowledge that they didn't have before just because I have a different viewpoint than Bud or anybody else who does television commentary - I'll continue to do that and hope that we can, just in a general sense of the word, hope that we can take this game to a different level, because it's been disappointing on a lot of levels for me to see tennis in my country fall further away from the center pages.
Q. Did you get any reaction to that gesture with Safin?
JIM COURIER: Well, I got reaction to it in Australia, obviously, because it was very visible...
Q. The spontaneity of it.
JIM COURIER: It wasn't seen in America.
Q. It wasn't?
JIM COURIER: ESPN wouldn't show that, obviously. That's not part of their coverage. But it was -- I have no idea how it happened, it just seemed like the right thing to do (laughing).
Q. He could do with it now, I think. He seems like he needs a hug at the moment.
JIM COURIER: Marat, he seems like he needs a hug a lot.
Q. Could you say something about your win over Guy Forget in Indian Wells, which is sort of really, I think, the start for you. Do you remember the match, of course?
JIM COURIER: I sure do. I think that the Indian Wells tournament in '91, I think that's really where I kicked off my run of confidence. Because I had played very well in Australia; I lost in the fourth round to Edberg but in five difficult sets, which was encouraging for me. Indian Wells marked the beginning of Jim Courier - sorry about the third-person usage there, I hate when that happens (smiling) - it was the start of me being able to think my way through tennis matches for the first time instead of bashing my way through. The match against Guy was very much a topsy-turvy affair. I was down a set twice in the match and managed to come back and win it in a breaker. That just gave me the confidence to believe that I was ready to take that step into the Top 10, which I would do after this tournament a couple weeks later. So that was a definite shift in the way that I believed in how I could play tennis. It wasn't that I didn't believe I could win matches, it's just now I knew that I could win them in multiple ways.
Q. One small other question. I know you remember - I don't like to embarrass you - but Disney.
JIM COURIER: Yep.
Q. Michael Chang.
JIM COURIER: Yeah.
Q. Third-set breaker.
JIM COURIER: Right.
Q. Weather like yesterday.
JIM COURIER: Right.
JIM COURIER: Oh, yeah.
Q. Pulled it out to come pose for a trophy photo in front of the big thing. I'll never forget that.
JIM COURIER: Yeah, that was my last title, actually, that I won, was the US Clay Court Championships in Disney. My memory of that is being down matchpoints, or at least breakpoints in the third set, while I was cramping on a very muggy day like it has been here. I went in and Bill Norris went to give me an IV because I needed to rehydrate quickly, and he stuck the needle in and he didn't have the bag attached. I'm laying on the table cramping and now blood is spurting out of my arm all over me (laughter). And Bill, I mean, how much experience does one man need? The guy's been around quite a while. He finally got it in, and the cramping abated, and then we went out and had a nice photo session which, thank you, I still have a wonderful copy of.
Q. I have one in my bedroom, you and Terry and Carlos.
JIM COURIER: Nice. Not in the bedroom, please (smiling).
Q. Back in Bradenton, Bollettieri used to talk about sending you and Andre out on a back court to beat each other's brains out. How many matches did you guys play? How often? Were there burgers on it, milkshakes? Was there money on it?
JIM COURIER: No, gambling in tennis is not allowed, Charlie, I'm not sure if you're aware (smiling). I was in a group with about 30 players, including Andre and me. Me, Martin Blackman, Ivanisevic, Pioline at times, those guys were there as well. We would have challenge matches all the time. I probably played Andre, just a blind guess, 30 or 40 times on those courts and many more times as well once he started playing professional and I was still playing in the Juniors. Lots of battles. Lots of times that -- you knew with Andre that if you got up a break, he was probably going to walk off the court. He was probably going to just quit at that point in time, which is, you know...
Q. Nasty matches?
JIM COURIER: ...an amazing transformation for him. Yeah, we had some physical encounters there.
Q. Hooking going on?
JIM COURIER: Of course there was hooking going on, absolutely. Lots of it. Anything you could do to rattle someone's cage (smiling). You put 30 of the best junior tennis players in the world together with very little supervision and let them throw their racquet and yell and scream at each other, and the matches mean something in this little ranking system that we have there, oh, yeah, there's going to be hooking.
Q. Any near fights?
JIM COURIER: Oh, sure. I don't remember any with Andre, but there were plenty with other players.
Q. Any actual blows?
JIM COURIER: I take the fifth (smiling).
Q. Of the teenagers around at the moment, anyone real exciting? Bud and I were out there watching Monfils yesterday. He's such an exciting talent. Nadal. These guys, you think the future of the sport is in reasonably safe hands?
JIM COURIER: I would say the future of the sport looks quite good, yeah. I think that Nadal impressed me certainly in the Davis Cup with his character. We've known his game has been good, but there's a difference between having a good-looking game and being able to execute at the biggest moment, which he certainly proved. Monfils is the same age, I believe, as Nadal, but a little bit behind ranking-wise at this point. But judging by his ability, I watched him play a match in Australia, I was impressed with his raw talent, and I think it's raw at this point. As he polishes it, I think that he'll clearly climb pretty quickly. In America we have Donald Young is obviously getting a lot of attention. He's a very gifted player in the fashion of Marcelo Rios, I think. I think that's the style that he seems to play at this point. He'll grow and that will probably change as he fills out and becomes more of a man than a boy. We have some other young talented players, Tim Neilly won the Orange Bowl. He's a very strong player as well, muscular guy. I'm always interested to see where the next challenges come from, the next challengers and champions come from. The physical you know you can count on in tennis; you know you're always going to find great physical talent. The mental is the one that's the most interesting to me, to see who can actually handle the pressure, step up into it.
Q. When you look back with the four of you, as you were going through and developing your careers, which of the guys would have been your favorite rivalry to have with - Andre, Pete, Chang?
JIM COURIER: Well, I think that I'd love to say Pete, but he dominated me so much it would be hard to call that really a rivalry, right, 14-4. He was never much fun to play. That two first serves was challenging to say the least. I would say that the matches that I played against Andre probably offered the most electricity for me for multiple reasons. They felt like heavyweight boxing matches when I played him, particularly one when we played at the US Open. We played a night match there in the quarterfinals that really felt electric to me. Australian Open when he came back from two sets down. Again, those matches had something. The matches with Pete had something as well, but because I didn't win as many, I'm probably less apt to choose that as my favorite rivalry. But Andre and I had a very balanced record, and we had a lot of seesaw battles. We had so much history, as well, so I'd probably go with that one.
Q. In Australia, obviously the two points that we all remember, the dives into the Yarra...
JIM COURIER: Hmm.
Q. But also the match with Sampras, I think for a lot of us probably one of the two greatest matches played at the Australian Open. Where do they stand, those two aspects, stand with you?
JIM COURIER: Well, I mean, diving into the Yarra is sort of a -- that's a nice memory. It's one that's brought up quite often, which I enjoy, that people remember that.
BUD COLLINS: Did you need a shot of any sort after that?
JIM COURIER: Something unique. Well, I was going to India to play Davis Cup not far after, so I was okay (smiling). I was okay. The match against Pete is one of those matches that, again, is well-remembered not specifically for the quality of the match, which was there as well, but more for the emotion that we saw from Pete for the first time in a public setting. It's one of those matches that I'm very proud of. Even having lost it, I thought that it was -- it's one of those matches that should stand the test of time if only because it was really the first glimpse behind the curtain of this great champion, Sampras. It was a long-time friend and rival of his that was on the stage with him, that knew his coach, so it was a dynamic match in a lot of ways.
Q. You still have your place in Manhattan?
JIM COURIER: I do.
Q. So now it's, let's say, early August. You don't have to play a tournament in Europe. The day is completely yours, no commitments. You get up in Manhattan, take us through a day.
JIM COURIER: Take you through a day?
JIM COURIER: This year? There won't be...
Q. A fantasy day in Manhattan.
JIM COURIER: A fantasy day when I don't have to work? Well, there won't be a day in August that I'll be silent in Manhattan and not have a lot to do, but I'll just go with you on this one.
Q. How about July?
JIM COURIER: Whatever. Typical day for me, if I'm free to the extent of where I don't have any commitments, I will try and get a workout in early, whether it's going to hit tennis balls early in the morning or get to the weight room, and then I'll go into the office where Inside Out is. We've got several projects that are demanding our attention, so I'll be in the office probably working till 6 or 7 o'clock. I'm part of the workforce in a lot of ways these days, which is kind of interesting, but it's something that I'm passionate about it and it's also, again, involved in my love, tennis, so it's not really work. But I'll be in there making phone calls, potentially going to meetings in the city and working on different aspects of our projects whether it's making sure we have the players' contracts lined up, or simple things as mundane as deciding what kind of balls we need to use at an event. There are all kinds of different areas of the projects in our group that are important. We're a young company, so everyone sort of chips in and does everything.
Q. Is there a studio where you'd go hit the drums?
JIM COURIER: Unfortunately, drums in Manhattan prove to be challenging, but I have a studio in my apartment so late at night if I want to plug in the guitar, I can do that, put the headphones on, and hopefully not disturb my neighbors.
Q. With the intellectual curiosity that you've always had, do you ever see yourself going to college?
JIM COURIER: Don't say run for public office, Charlie, please (smiling). I actually strongly considered going to a business school, because you can do an international business school course without an undergraduate degree if you pass the appropriate exams and qualify in that respect. But the more that I talked to people, the more information that I gathered on that, the less inclined I was to do so. I'm living business school right now.
Q. There's a vacancy for the CEO of the ATP Tour.
JIM COURIER: Yeah, well, experience counts, and I believe that...
Q. Why not?
JIM COURIER: I believe that we'd be better suited finding someone that has significant global marketing experience and significant business experience outside of the tennis world. I think we're a small world, and I would highly encourage whoever is on that committee to be as broad as possible in their search because it's a big world - we can't be about fighting it within our circles in tennis; we need to be recognizing that we're at competition with everybody in the entertainment business. There are a lot of qualified people, given the opportunity, could do a terrific job in the global marketing area. I'm not qualified.
Q. Aspire to fatherhood one day?
JIM COURIER: I'm trying. I'm practicing.
Q. Interested in it?
JIM COURIER: Sure.
Q. Your induction into the Hall of Fame this summer, how do you feel about that?
JIM COURIER: I am too young to be going in the Hall of Fame (smiling).
BUD COLLINS: You have to take it anyway. I can get you a wildcard for the tournament so you could come around. I think we could put you off playing until Thursday probably.
JIM COURIER: Okay, that might be helpful. Kat, the Hall of Fame is something that is hard to put into words because it's not something, for me, that I ever considered could be a possibility when I was a child. Tennis was something that I began because I enjoyed it and because my parents played it, and it's been a remarkable journey for me. This is a part of that journey. It's astonishing to think that I could be placed alongside the names that are in the Hall of Fame. I don't see myself as that caliber of tennis player yet. Maybe when I look back on my career in 20 years, I'll recognize that it was something more than what I think it is now. I mean, not to put my career in a different bin, but maybe I'm too close to it, I lived it, I know the ins and the outs of it a little too well. But the Hall of Fame is something that's the Mount Rushmore of tennis. To think that I'm going to be in there with some of those names is, it's daunting. Now I have to come up with a speech, which is truly daunting as well.
Q. This beautiful building and the grounds and all that, is it sort of the icing on the cake for you to be bestowed with that sort of an honor?
JIM COURIER: Sure it is. Sure it is. I mean, "icing on the cake" is a good way to put it, because the moments that you live in tennis make up your career, and I've lived them, and there are others that I'm living now that are in different fashions. But it's so - what's the word I'm looking for here, Bud, help me out. Come on, Bud.
BUD COLLINS: It's your show, kid (laughter).
JIM COURIER: I know. Come on. It's, I can't think of the word.
BUD COLLINS: It's an epiphany.
JIM COURIER: It's not an epiphany, but that's a good word, though. I like it. Lots of syllables. I can't put it into words. I think what I'm looking for is not here, I need another cup of coffee and then I'll be there with you, Craig. Check back with me like in four hours (smiling).
Q. A Realtor is running an ad in our Florida Tennis that says, "Former home of tennis legend, just minutes north of Tampa." It's a beautiful stone home that looks like a castle. The Realtor told me that it's your home.
JIM COURIER: Can I see that? Let me see that. Are they selling my parents' house? That is it.
Q. They don't even know they're selling it.
JIM COURIER: Boy, that is amazing. Wow, it's worth 325 grand (laughter)? Are you kidding me? Yeah, that's where I grew up. Little gingerbread house.
Q. Your memories of growing up there...
JIM COURIER: I used to pitch to my dad in the afternoons in this yard. That's where, when he would come home from work, I would throw fastballs to him there, and then there's a tennis court that's built on the other side of that. Yeah, that was home for me. That's a wonderful neighborhood to live in. It was a very safe spot to be, lots of kids in the neighborhood out playing football in the side yard and riding bikes. It's a pretty idyllic spot. I'm surprised it's worth 325 grand, though. Dade City has come a long way. That's amazing. Can I get a copy of that? My mom's going to flip out.
Q. In your mind, could you have been a professional baseball player?
JIM COURIER: I think that I could have probably played several sports if I had found one that fit my body type. And, baseball, absolutely. The reason I didn't take the baseball route is because they don't have rankings for baseball players, and I knew that I was the second-best tennis player in the State of Florida, No. 8 in the United States of America when I was 12 years old, and I couldn't tell you what I was in baseball but I liked my chances in tennis of getting a scholarship in college. If they had rankings in baseball, maybe I would have been able to do the math and figure out my chances of being a professional baseball player versus a tennis player. But that was the decision-maker for me, I just thought I was better in tennis. Thank you for coming, everybody. Bud, thank you.
BUD COLLINS: Thank you.