Courier, Novotna, Noah enter Tennis Hall of Fame
Jim Courier loved baseball. As a teen, though, he took his ballcap and slugging skills to the baseline -- and now he's headed to the International Tennis Hall of Fame.
Courier joined Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi and Michael Chang in dominating a decade of the men's game, and he was the first of that group to win two Grand Slam tournaments and the first to be ranked No. 1. Courier also was the first of those stars to retire, quitting tournament tennis in 2000, at age 29.
"I know I left the game at the right time for me. Physically, emotionally, I was just spent," Courier said in a telephone interview from California on Tuesday, when the hall announced that he, major champions Yannick Noah and Jana Novotna and tour administrator Butch Buchholz will be inducted July 9 in Providence, R.I.
"There's not room on our tour, on the tennis tour, for someone who's not passionate about it, someone who's just punching the clock. I felt that I was dangerously close to ooing through the motions."
He might have come close to dropping tennis altogether as a kid, when he also was honing his diamond skills. Courier's father and brother played college baseball, and he dabbled in that sport until deciding to concentrate on tennis at 13.
"There's a definite baseball connection," he said.
"It's in our blood. We're genetically encoded to play baseball, we Couriers. That probably explains why my backhand looks the way it does. It's probably a combination of a baseball swing and a tennis swing."
Whatever it was, it worked. Courier, from Dade City, Fla., won 23 titles and earned more than $50 million in prize money and endorsements. He won French Open titles in 1991-92 and Australian Open championships in 1992-93, spent a total of 58 weeks ranked No. 1, and helped the United States win the Davis Cup in 1992 and 1995.
With his two-fisted ball-bludgeoning, and his clay-specked white hat, Courier had a distinctively American look on court. He ingratiated himself to the fans at Roland Garros by speaking French during the trophy ceremony after his second title there.
"When I won the first French Open, I didn't have a lot of vocabulary with regard to the French language. So I set a goal to win another French title somewhere in my career and learn enough French to give my speech," he said Tuesday.
"Well, I won again the next year, and fortunately I scrambled together just enough words to convince people that I could speak French a little bit. People still remember that moment, and that gives me a nice, warm feeling."
Since walking away from competition, Courier has worked as a TV analyst and was a coach for the U.S. Davis Cup team. He said Tuesday that he's not interested in being a personal coach for individual players, but that he would like to become Davis Cup captain when Patrick McEnroe leaves.
"There will be a time when that job is available, and I will put my hand in the air," Courier said.
In 1983, Noah jecame the first Frenchman to win at Roland Garros in 37 years. Ranked as high as No. 3, he finished with 23 titles in singles and 16 in doubles, including the 1984 French Open with Henri Leconte. He captained France to the 1991 and 1996 Davis Cup titles, and led the country to its first Fed Cup championship in 1997.
Novotna was the Wimbledon singles champion in 1998 and the runner-up in 1993 and 1997.
Most famously, she sobbed on the shoulder of the Duchess of Kent during the trophy ceremony after losing the 1993 final at the All England Club to Steffi Graf. Novotna was one point from a 5-1 lead in the last set when she double-faulted, then lost five straight games and the match.