Wayback Wednesday, 1991: Jim Courier's breakthrough in Indian WellsBy Mar 10, 2021
Style Points, Flashback Edition: The most memorable looks to hit Melbourne ParkBy Jan 28, 2022
The Prophetic Butterfly: After Osaka and Djokovic in 2021, is Jannik Sinner next to be anointed an Australian Open champion?By Jan 24, 2022
Davis Cup Finals
Five questions for three U.S. Davis Cup captains ahead of 2021 FinalsBy Nov 23, 2021
Facts & Stats
The Greats' last wins: a look at the first 20 No. 1sBy Jun 21, 2021
Courier Conversation: Night sessions, Nadal vs. Djokovic & Federer's return to ParisBy May 28, 2021
Tsitsipas closes night session with hilarious interviewBy Feb 09, 2021
The Natural: Can clay star Simona Halep keep rolling at Roland Garros?By Sep 24, 2020
No Place Like 'Home': Connors crushed it in NYCBy Sep 14, 2020
The Story Behind the Picture: Nick Bollettieri and his "Young Bucks"By Jul 31, 2020
Wayback Wednesday, 1991: Jim Courier's breakthrough in Indian Wells
Two weeks after his win in the desert, Courier became the first man to complete what would later be dubbed the “Sunshine Double,” with a singles victory in Miami.
Published Mar 10, 2021
As 1991 began, Jim Courier was a mere 20 years old—but already standing at a challenging crossroads.
Over the course of his teens, he’d advanced considerably. Ranked No. 348 in the world at the start of 1988, Courier was ranked No. 22 by the beginning of 1990. Along the way, he’d won his first ATP singles title and also earned a satisfying win at Roland Garros over one-time Bollettieri Academy roommate, Andre Agassi.
But 1990 was a frustrating year, Courier’s progress stagnating. By late December, his ranking had slipped to No. 25.
Courier’s work ethic was unassailable. Hour after hour of work on and off the court made him one of the tour’s most fit players. Still, there remained the search for one last puzzle piece that would help vault Courier into the elite.
He found it in late 1990 in the form of Jose Higueras, a former top tenner from Spain who for nearly a decade had based himself in the Palm Springs area. In 1989, Higueras helped Michael Chang become the first American man to win the Roland Garros singles title in 34 years. Higueras’ reputation was one of both discipline and tranquility—all you’d expect from a man who in his playing days was renowned for seemingly supernatural patience and calm.
Turning his eyes to Courier, Higueras recommended a series of refinements. In the technical realm, these included an improved slice backhand, a companion to Courier’s two-hander. But even more, Higueras suggested Courier turn down the volume on his intensity, both with the ball and his mind. As Courier told the New York Times, “Jose helped me see the game differently. He calmed me down a bit.”
One week at the ATP event in Indian Wells in March ‘91 turned everything around. More pointedly, the transformation took place in a single match. In the third round, versus the fourth-ranked Agassi, the 26th-ranked Courier lost the first set, 6-2. But then, all he’d worked on with Higueras began to click. Courier won the next two sets, 6-3, 6-4.
There followed two more victories. Courier was now in the second ATP singles final of his career. On this day, it would be a best-of-five-setter versus a formidable French lefthander, fifth-ranked Guy Forget.
Forget took a two sets to one lead and went up 3-1 in the fourth. “I was just thinking a little bit out there,” said Courier afterwards. “I was trying to work my way into the match and not trying to bang my way into the match.” He won five straight games to take it into a fifth. In that final set, Courier lost only three points on his serve.
It all came down to a tiebreaker. At 1-all, a Courier forehand sailed deep. “It was clearly long,” said Forget. “And it was really a slow ball, not a 120-mph ball that they missed. It’s like two points difference almost.”
That was enough to give Courier an edge. Swiftly, he went up 6-2, at last winning the three-hour and 30-minute battle on his third championship point. The $125,000 first prize marked the biggest payday of Courier’s career to that point. For good measure, he also won the doubles with Javier Sanchez.
There followed a cascade of superb results. Two weeks after his win in the desert, Courier became the first man to complete what would later be dubbed the “Sunshine Double,” with a singles victory in Miami. In June, Courier won the singles at Roland Garros, beating Agassi in a dramatic five-set final that was highlighted by a coaching tip from Higueras. By February 1992, Courier was ranked No. 1.
That crossroads was now ancient history.