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Courier enjoys growing popularity of legends tennis

By James Beck (Contact)

Monday, August 6, 2007

Life has slowed down only slightly for Jim Courier since his days of practically training around the clock to maintain his status as the top-ranked tennis player in the world.
Courier did what he had to do to keep the upper hand for a few years on his chums from his junior tennis days. You know, Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi and Michael Chang. If Courier had to hit those exaggerated topspin forehands all day long or if it took extended sessions in the gym to keep his muscles and body in condition to compete at the top, he did it.
He won four Grand Slam tournament titles in a span of 20 months in the early 1990s. He appeared to be on his way to record Grand Slam totals, but he never advanced past the quarterfinals of another Grand Slam after the 1996 French Open.
Sampras and Agassi zoomed past him once their superior tennis skills overcame Courier's zest for training. He was the first of the four greats to quit the ATP Tour. He was only 18 when he played in his first Grand Slam event, but his last one came before he turned 30.
He'll be 37 in less than two weeks. On Thursday morning, he was at the Legg Mason Tennis Classic in Washington, promoting Wolf Blass Wines on the U.S. Open Series. On Friday night, he was in Kalmazoo, Mich., taking on Todd Martin in an exhibition.
Courier's main job is running his Inside Out Sports and Entertainment company. But he'll serve as an analyst for the USA Network's coverage of the U.S. Open. He also serves as an analyst during the Australian Open for an Australian network.
He started the Outback Champions Series for former ATP standouts in 2005 with one tournament. "We grew to five (tournaments) last year and it's up to seven this year," Courier said Thursday morning from Washington.
Although the next Outback Series event will be held Aug. 22-26 on grass in Newport, R.I., Courier is already looking ahead to returning to Charlotte Sept. 26-30 to defend his title in the Championships at the Palisades.
"The tournament in Charlotte was wildly embraced last year. We drew about 2,500 last year. We were sold out Friday through Sunday, and this year the stadium has been enlarged to about 2,700," he said. "Sampras is coming this year . . . it's going to be a great year."
That tournament is on clay, a surface on which Courier won two French Opens. By contrast, clay never has been Sampras' long suit. The French Open is the only blank slot on Sampras' record-setting Grand Slam resume.
But a few days earlier, a fast carpet at North Charleston Coliseum should give Sampras just the surface to make his huge serve practically dance past Courier in a Sunday afternoon "Legends of Tennis" exhibition (3 p.m. on Sept. 23).
"It is tougher to handle Pete on carpet . . . the quicker the surface the better his serve is for effectiveness," Courier said.
"His serve is so tough he was serving 135 or 140 mph (in a 6-2, 6-4 Sampras win over Courier in an Outback event in Athens, Greece, earlier this year). It was tough just getting a racket on the ball. And he was chipping and charging on my second serve. I did my best to keep him off the net."
How good is Sampras at age 35? "Today, Pete's not training at the level of those guys (Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, etc.), but with his serve he could hang in there. I would like his chances more on grass than clay," Courier said.
Don't be fooled. Courier still takes his tennis seriously enough to train regularly. "I train a lot . . . five or six days a week. Everybody has to train to be able to play at this level. You have to be ready to play four matches in five days at a high level of competition. I practice a lot, ride a bike and hit the weight room."
But the Outback Series is nothing like the old ATP Tour days for the likes of Courier, Sampras, Martin, John McEnroe, Mats Wilander, Pat Cash, Chang, Goran Ivanisevic and others.
"This is a bit more manageable since we don't play week-in and week-out. It is a nice balance of high-level competition and a lifestyle that is manageable," said the affable Courier, who lists himself as "a free agent" when the question of marriage is mentioned.
Courier thinks the future of the Outback Series is "very bright. We have great sponsors, and a lot of cities have contacted us about having and Outback Series."
The North Charleston event will not be part of the Outback Series, but it will be promoted by Inside Out Sports and Entertainment. "We're expecting somewhere in the neighborhood of 5,000 people," he said.
Why Charleston? "Charleston sought us out. They were interested in having a big-time exhibition, and we are pleased to be in there."

Ticket information
Tickets are on sale at the coliseum ticket office, all Ticketmaster outlets including select Publix grocery stores, charge by phone (554-6060) and online at


2,606 Posts
There is an Outback event near me. For 2 years, it's been very successful. Good luck to them.
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