USA TODAY: WTA THIS WEEK – COURIER TALKS WOMEN’S TENNIS
Davis Cup captain Jim Courier, whose wife once played on the college and ITF circuits, knows women’s tennis. He watches and always has.
“Absolutely,” says Courier. “Not just because I’m married to someone who played tennis. I’ve always followed it.”
After playing at Harvard University for four years and on the ITF circuit a few years, Courier’s wife, Susanna Lingman, now works in marketing. Courier himself, a former No. 1 and four-time major winner, retired from the ATP tour but is all about tennis, all kinds and even now.
He’s a tennis commentator known for amusing post-match interviews. He’s founder of InsideOut Sports & Entertainment, an event production company that runs Champions Series tournaments. At those tournaments he’s one of eight star players, alongside Old School greats Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras, John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors, Michael Chang, Mats Wilander and Patrick Rafter.
PLAYING TENNIS (NOW)
As part of the PowerShares Series they compete in 12 one-night tournaments in different cities with four players per city and, when the series ends, with the top three players sharing $1 million in bonus money.
These days Courier’s guessing more on Sampras’s first serves, always hard to read and quick to hit corners. It’s working out well. “That’s the one little nugget I wish I had figured out a little earlier,” says Courier.
He also has other things to think about now: “Staying healthy is a big part of playing at any age, but certainly at 42. … It’s a great challenge. The good news is that all of my opposition is aging at the same rate that I am.”
In an interview last week Courier answered questions about other topics, too. When women’s tennis came up he said, “Fire away.”
WATCHING WOMEN’S TENNIS
You hear WTA players talk about watching men’s tennis, particularly about Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, but you hear less about ATP players watching women’s tennis. Courier watches and says it’s easier than ever to do that:
“These days there are even more combined tournaments, and when you’re sitting around waiting to play your matches you’re watching whatever’s on in front of you at the courts. Or at a major on your days off you’re inevitably watching whatever’s on the show courts. I’ve seen tons of men’s and women’s tennis. I think all the guys do as well.”
The American Davis Cup captain is closely watching the American women.
“I’m interested in the group of U.S. female players that are training up here in New York and that Patrick McEnroe and his team are helping out, whether it’s Varvara Lepchenko, Christina McHale, Melanie Oudin. There’s a group of them training at Flushing Meadows that seem to be lifting each other up.”
Courier notes that 18-year-old Lauren Davis broke into the Top 100 last week. Then he gets to that current titan of American tennis and women’s tennis too – Serena Williams.
“You can’t help but be inspired and in awe of what Serena’s doing this season,” says Courier. He figures she’s playing the best tennis of her career, that serious health issues have made her appreciate the sport and “her gift” more than ever.
“She’s really attacking the remainder of her career – which we all hope will be for quite some time – with the fervor that we all hoped she would attack the entirety of it,” says Courier. “She’s got a lot of runway to do a lot of great stuff in this sport. … Now just knock on wood she stays healthy, because that’s been a big challenge for her.”
CHALLENGING SERENA WILLIAMS
And the challenge for women’s tennis? It needs something the men’s game has been “so fortunate” to have the past seven or so years with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal and now also Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, says Courier:
“I’d love to see someone step up and really challenge Serena. I think rivalries are the best thing in sports. … If you can have a group of three or four players – like the top four men – challenging for the majors consistently in the women’s game, then I think you can start to bring more people under the tent to follow the sport.”
Courier’s willing take some guesses on which players could make up that group, in addition to Serena, over the next few years.
Last year’s Wimbledon winner comes up first: “I like (Petra) Kvitova’s game a lot. I think she’s pretty far from being in top shape, and she’s so gifted she’s able to get away with it. … It’s nice to have a lefty involved as well.”
Courier, whose International Tennis Hall of Fame profile describes him as “industrious” and “unflagging”, also brings up the world No. 4: “It’s nice to have a player like (Agnieszka) Radwanska, who is such a different player and doesn’t have the size or the power but has the craft and the guile. She’s an interesting component of the mix as well.”
He also cites the two top-ranked players, Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova, and mentions them, too, when commenting on what women’s tennis is doing well:
“They have a bunch of superstar players that can and do help promote the sport, whether it’s Azarenka or Sharapova or, of course, Li Na with the huge fan base she has in China. … Tennis is the premier women’s professional sport. … Also it shares the stage with its male counterparts, and that is a rising tide that lifts both the men’s and the women’s game.”