Losing his drive, Courier hits breaks

September 28, 1994|By Brad Snyder | Brad Snyder,Sun Staff Writer

Jim Courier wishes he hadn't said it.

He had lost a tough second-round match in Indianapolis last month, and his emotions were frayed at the post-match news conference. He said he was "mentally, physically and emotionally" tired and vowed not to pick up his rackets "until my heart tells me to pick them up again. I don't know if that's going to be one day, one week, one month, one year, 10 years."

Courier, who turned 24 the day before, was labeled a burnout case. He was compared to Bjorn Borg, a former No. 1 player who quit the game at 26.

But Courier is not Borg. He picked up his rackets three days after Indianapolis, lost in the second round at the U.S. Open, and then took two weeks off. He did not intend to stay away from tennis for eight years like Borg. He was simply a little tired and needed a rest.

"It was just fatigue," Courier said this week. "The car was running on empty and I was trying to get out and push it. I said, "Why can't I push this car?' It doesn't work."

It has not been an easy year for Courier, who is appearing at the 1994 Signet Bank Tennis Challenge tomorrow at the Baltimore Arena. He has exhausted himself trying to regain the No. 1 ranking from Pete Sampras. Instead of improving, he has dropped to No. 14.

"He lost his confidence and that puts a little doubt in your mind," said Jose Higueras, Courier's coach the past four years. "Some of his shots he knew were going to catch the line, and now they're going out by an inch and or two."

Courier's confidence and physical conditioning were the two biggest reasons he got to No. 1. Sure, he has powerful ground strokes, but he hits them like the Little League baseball player he once was. He does not have Andre Agassi's fluid swing or Sampras' killer serve. He wins when he has a mental edge.

But Courier started to lose his advantage when he was still No. 1, in the 1993 French Open final. Facing clay-court specialist Sergi Bruguera, Courier led 4-1 in the fifth set. Bruguera has a reputation for choking in the fifth set of his matches, but this time Courier let one get away.

Sampras took over No. 1 by beating Courier in the Wimbledon final that year. Courier briefly regained the top position in August 1993 but lost it again at the U.S. Open.

For Courier, this has been a year of maturity. Not being the best has forced him to grow up.

"I think he's a little more happy and comfortable with himself," Higueras said. "Sometimes we forget how young these kids are and how much has happened in their lives already. And it takes a little while for them to figure out who they are."

Courier figured out he still wanted to play tennis. He started training with Higueras last week in California. He also said he would take more two- and three-week breaks next year to prevent getting mentally tired.

This two-week break has done Courier some good. He said he is nowhere close to retiring because of burnout, as the media reported after his outburst in Indianapolis.

"I blew it out of proportion, and too many members of the media took it and blew it out of proportion," Courier said. "I'm fine mentally."

He is not obsessed with being No. 1, as Borg was. And that's good, because Sampras can dominate Courier on every surface except clay. Courier can deal with being second, third, or even 14th best. At least for the time being.

"That's a long road from where I am now," Courier said of being No. 1. "My immediate goal is to get the car back on track, back in the right direction, full of gas."

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