Interview With Jim Courier

The former world number one tennis champ previews the upcoming Champions Series at the Verizon Center

By: Kyle Gustafson

Former world's number one Jim Courier, far right, will be at the Verizon Center with Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi on September 23. Photo courtesy dkc Public Relations

Four-time Grand Slam winner Jim Courier will be one of four American tennis legends, along with Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, and Michael Chang, to take to the court at the Verizon Center on September 23 as part of the touring HSBC Champions Series. We spoke to the former world number one on Wednesday to get a preview of the event and to pick his brain on how he sees the final weekend of the US Open playing out.

What can everyone expect from the Champions Series event? What will the format be like?
It’s a one night shoot-out tennis tournament. We’ve got four really great players—if I can call myself one—with Agassi, Sampras, Chang and me playing at the Verizon Center. I’ll play Agassi in one one-set semifinal and Sampras will play Chang, and the two winners will play an eight-game pro-set match. It’s normal set scoring but its first to eight instead of first to six. It’s basically like going to see a hockey or a basketball game from a time standpoint. We condense a tennis tournament into that timeframe with four players that most tennis fans will know and even most general sports fans are going to know. I think it’s going to be a great event.

I was surprised to see this is an actual league with standings, so everyone is playing for something.
It’s a 12-tournament tour played over five weeks, so there’s the beginning of the season, which is where we’ll be at in DC and then we end up in Buffalo at our last tournament. There are rankings and there’s a bonus pool for the top three finishers, and there are eight players playing on the circuit, so everyone has a really good shot at being in the money.

Obviously you guys have played each other many, many times over the course of your careers. Is there still a rivalry left or is everyone pretty friendly at this point?
I think we’re all friendly off the court, but on the court the rivalries are still there. These guys playing in DC, this is my generation. We grew up playing juniors against each other and pros and now playing the Champions Series we’ve come full circle. But the competition is there and we still want to win. We’re all still proud, egotistical athletes. (Laughs)

Are you familiar with DC? Did you ever play the Legg Mason?
I was on a Davis Cup team that played in DC. I’ve definitely spent some time there. I haven’t played in the Verizon Center before so I’m looking forward to checking that venue out. I hear it’s pretty nice.

Last year you took over the role of Davis Cup captain. How do you feel about the team and the overall prospects for US tennis as a whole? People seem to bemoan the fact that the US has no superstars, but we actually have a pretty deep talent pool of young players right now.
We do have a good team. We lost unfortunately in the quarterfinals this year to a good team from Spain, with Andy Roddick and Mardy Fish playing singles and Bob & Mike Bryan playing doubles. It was a strong team but Spain was just a little bit better in the end. This year, we’ve got not only those guys but John Isner and Sam Querry, who’s been injured but is very much a part of what we’ll be doing going forward, and then you have this younger generation of players with Donald Young at 22, Ryan Harrison at 19 and now Jack Sock at 18. They all played in the US Open and everyone has had a good summer overall. It seems like we’ve got some new guys coming into the mix. Certainly Andy Roddick, James Blake, Mardy Fish and Bob and Mike Bryan have been the anchors of the team for a lot of years but there’s probably going to be a change here in the next few years, I would think.

I’ve read a lot recently about the tradition of inviting younger players to come be a practice player during a Davis Cup tie. What’s that process like?
It helps them see exactly what the top American players do at practice, how hard they train and how seriously they take their craft and I think it’s a real learning curve when we bring young players in to be sparring partners for our guys, as far as they can see what they’re missing in their games and what they need to maximize in order to reach their potential. We try and mix it up. We try not to bring the same guys back each time because we want to get as much exposure as we can get across the board. Because it is a valuable experience and it is a pretty magical time. I remember when I was just turning pro and I was able to go as a practice partner to a Davis Cup tie when we played in Peru and it was a pretty unique experience to sit right on the bench. Davis Cup is very much like a college football or a college basketball environment, where it’s very partisan, and that makes it really fun. It’s neat to get a first-hand look at that when you don’t have the pressure of performing. That’s the duty of being a practice partner.

You’re in New York for the Open right now. How do you see the men’s draw unfolding?
I think Novak Djokovic started the tournament as the favorite and I think he continues to be the favorite and he and Roger Federer both have a big advantage now that they’re in the top half of the draw and they’re one round ahead of the bottom. The bottom half of the draw, which is where all the Americans are, plus Rafael "Rafa" Nadal Parera and Andy Murray, they’d have to play four best-of-five set matches in five days, if they finish the tournament on time. That makes it physically improbable that anyone in the bottom can win unless they win all of their matches in straight sets all the way to the final, because if they have any tough matches, they just won’t be able to recover. It’s just too hard.

Jim Courier will be playing in the HSBC Champion Series at the Verizon Center September 23. Tickets ($38 to $253) available at Ticketmaster.

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