Jim Courier was a multiple champion on the open tour and even in semi-retirement, aged 38, that competitive instinct is still strong.
That’s why despite Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi joining the Legends Championships this year, a tournament for former world beating players aged over 30, he remains the player most likely to succeed.
Courier breezed past fellow American Jimmy Arias at the clay court of the Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman on Sunday. It took him just over an hour to earn $60,000 in winning 6-4,6-2 and gain 800 ranking points to topple Sampras off the No.1 postiion in the Outback Champions Series ranking.
Courier admits he felt a little extra pressure from last year’s tournament here because he was the defending champion.
‘I think I started the tournament a little bit tight as a result of that,’ he said.
‘Jimmy was really hitting out on his shots and returning my serves, playing aggressively. But once I was able to turn the tide I still had to battle but felt pretty comfortable. He was hitting a lot of trick shots, slices and drop shots.’
Courier’s company Inside Out, organises the Outback Legends Championships. He credits his team on taking a load off his shoulders so that concentrating on playing is not a problem.
‘Yes, as the promoter, I do a little more than other players, like get up early in the morning to go on the radio, but the bulk of the work I do from a business stand-point are on the weeks that I’m not playing.
‘Once I get on the court, I’ve got used to blocking things out. ‘See ball, hit ball’ becomes my motto.’
Courier hopes to stay ahead of Sampras. ‘Last year, I won three of the last four tournaments I played in so I hope to go one better this time.’
Arias plays best on clay. He was complaining that there aren’t enough clay courts on the Legends circuit. Asked which surface he preferred, Courier joked: ‘My favourite surface is my couch!’
He thinks it’s fantastic having Sampras on the circuit. ‘He’s won two tournaments so far this season, Pat Rafter too and Andre Agassi will be joining us in the Arizona tournament for the first time. With Stefan Edberg and John McEnroe playing we’ll have eight former No.1s for the first time.
‘Goran Ivanisevic was very disappointed not to be able to play in Cayman because of injury. I’m sure he’s going to want to come back. Pat Cash did well, filling in for him here. We like to change personnel around in tournaments to keep things fresh.’
Courier added that if he cannot make it back to Cayman as a player he would always want to be here in some other capacity. ‘Why would I not want to come here?’
The tennis coach attached to the Ritz-Carlton is the legendary Nick Bollettieri who has guided scores of the greatest players of the past 30 years.
Courier is proud that Bollettieri rates him as his all-time hardest working pupil even if he wasn’t the most talented.
‘That is a great compliment. Nick has changed the course of my life. He gave me a chance with a scholarship. He’s seen a lot of great players come through his academy.
‘I think I’m very candid and self-aware and know that I’m not the most natural tennis player but I also know that I’m one of the most professional, best prepared and one of the toughest competitors out there.
‘At the end of the day, tennis, just like life, is about making the most of your opportunities. It makes me very proud when I hear Nick say things like that.’
The reception Courier got from Cayman fans was stronger this year than last. He enjoyed the clinics he took and rates the best part of being in Cayman is to wake up in the morning and view the sea from his bedroom window.
‘Looking at the beach and beautiful water never gets tiring. I live in New York city where the water doesn’t look like that!’
It was all put together by Ritz-Carlton owner Michael Ryan who said: ‘I think everybody agrees that as fabulous as it was last year, this year was better. With the champions’ tent up top and the VIP activities, people just absolutely adored it. From the VIP area you didn’t have to miss a second of the action. Ritz-Carlton did an unbelievable job on the food.
‘A whole lot of people were saying that they’ve been to the US Open and the Australian Open but they didn’t compare to this. They said the ambience, service and food quality was better.
‘Next year, we’re going to keep looking to make it more accessible to the community. We also had great kids programmes and we want to bring more people on the island into the event.’