Jim Courier on Young Players and Expanding Senior Circuit
In Part II of our interview, U.S. Davis Cup captain Jim Courier discusses the additions of Andy Roddick and James Blake to the PowerShares Series, his vision of expanding the circuit internationally, and Jimmy Connors' split from Maria Sharapova.
(Part I of the interview is here.)
Jonathan Scott: Who do you think, as there seems to be a void, is an up-and-coming American male who’s going to burst on the scene?
Jim Courier: I think there are a few coming up the pipeline right now, but I really don’t want to give you the names because I really would like them to fly a little lower under the radar, not have the pressure and the spotlight of people expecting them to be the next Andy Roddick, to be the next Mardy Fish. I’d like them to be themselves as much as possible.
JS: To let them abide.
JC: It’s not going to be possible once they start poking their heads up. But for now, I’d rather that these kids who are working hard find their way through and find themselves in a better spot a little later. You’re just seeing too many kids get ahead of themselves before they’re ready. And it’s a long road, a longer road now than it was when a lot of us came up from the juniors to the pros. It seems to be harder to make that transition, and it’s going to take time.
JC: Well, that should abate, from what I’m hearing about that. She should be fine. On one hand, part of me thinks, well, good for her, she’s working so hard that her muscles started to break down. At least she’s working hard. That’s part of the whole plan, if you’re going to be a great pro, you’ve got to work hard. She just needs to find the balance, and hopefully she will with her coaches and her doctors. I think that, if you really want to go back and analyze it, Melanie came up and she played one really great tournament.
JS: It just happened to be the final Slam of that season.
JC: And one really great tournament doesn’t make a great player. And because the American public and media were so desperate for the next great American player, there were a lot of things that happened to her as a result, including expectations that she probably wasn’t ready for. Maybe her game wasn’t ready for those expectations. And that’s a little bit of a byproduct of a nation that’s searching for the next great thing. And America is not the only nation that puts that pressure on their players. They’ve felt that in England, and they’ve felt that in France, and they’ve felt it in Australia—and they continue to.
JS: I think [Bernard] Tomic continues to feel it.
JC: I’m sure he does. But he also continues to make a lot more money than a player from Colombia would make because he lives in a tennis-hungry nation that has a major and wants to support him. So there’s a good and a bad thing, and Melanie Oudin has felt both sides of that coin.
JS: Turning to the PowerShares Series now, how do you prepare for a 130, 140 M.P.H. Mark Philippoussis serve?
JC: [laughs] By trying to get people to stand in close to the service line and rip serves at me so my reflexes catch up to it. The people I typically practice with are very, very good, a lot of them ex-pros, but they don’t serve at his level because there are very few players who do that.
JS: No Scud missiles.
JC: Exactly. It’s all about just getting guys to stand up four feet inside the service line and hit it as hard as they can, and you just react. It’s like anything, if you see enough of it, it starts to feel comfortable. But if you haven’t seen it, it’s a real shock to the system. I definitely need to have guys up there banging some serves at me.
JS: Where do you see the PowerShares Series in, say, five years?
JC: I think we’ll be expanding outside of the U.S. as well. I’d like to see that. I’d like to see it continue in the U.S. I like the 12-tournament format.
JS: Thinking Canada at least?
JC: I think we can take this globally. I think there’s certainly an appetite for the name recognition and the power that these players have. And certainly you would know as well as I do that tennis internationally is arguably stronger than it is in the U.S. I think there’s room for us to expand. History has shown us, and continues to show us with the additions of Andy Roddick and James Blake to this tour, that players who play on the ATP tour, they still like to compete when that’s no longer there for them or when they choose to no longer be there. They still like to whet their competitive appetite, and this is a really nice way to have your cake and eat it, too. You can have a life at home with your family, but you can still compete and do it on your terms, in the time frames that works for you. That’s where I think we’re heading.
JS: I’m glad that you mentioned that with Blake and Roddick. Do you think that they’re sort of easing themselves out of their playing days? I guess I was a bit surprised that they joined PowerShares so soon after retiring. Were you surprised?
JC: Yeah, I was surprised. Those guys had joked to me about it before, and I joked to them about it before when they were playing on tour. They’d say, “Hey, are you going to have a spot for me?” And I’d say, “Ah … you gotta keep working!” But I have seen the pattern typically be that players, when they come off of the ATP tour, they want to take a couple years—two, three, maybe four years—before they get back into it. So I was pleasantly surprised that they wanted to participate right away. It’s a great way to stay connected to the sport; it’s a great way for them to stay in shape. And to continue to have that area of their life not completely shut off. ‘cause they’ve been doing it since they’ve been 7, 8, 9, 10 years old. To really just shut that off, that faucet of competitiveness off, can be a little bit jarring. And I think it’ll be good for them. I think they’ll enjoy it, but time will tell.
JS: So we’ve got Ivan Lendl, John McEnroe, Philippoussis, and you coming to Indianapolis [for PowerShares Series]. You said earlier that the reason Jimmy Connors bailed was that his wife found out that it was Valentine’s weekend.
JC: I have heard that that was true. I haven’t heard it from Jimmy, and he may deny it, but it was for personal reasons.
JS: Is he still crying over Maria Sharapova?
JC: I don’t think so. I don’t think so. I don’t think any tears were shed there, probably on either side of that. They’re both pretty tough people. But Jimmy’s going to play a couple of the events with us, which is great news. People love to see him. And he played a couple of events a few years back, so it’ll be nice to get him back on the tour. It’s disappointing that we won’t have him here in Indianapolis, but you know, it’s Valentine’s Day, and you’ve got to be with the one you love. I’m going to be with Johnny Mac and Phlip, and Lendl.
JS: The ones you love.
JC: The ones I love. That’s right.