DESPITE REPORTS TO THE CONTRARY, Jim Courier is not really a brat. He’s just, well, a bit like his tennis game—long on power, short on politesse. Asked recently how it felt to make the quarterfinals in a major tournament for the first time, Courier volleyed back, “It doesn’t suck.” When he won the French Open this month—outslugging Andre Agassi in a five-set brawl that snailed through two rain delays—he flopped backward in an exultation that left him covered with red dust. “It just happened,” he explains. “I was so overwhelmed, that was the only thing I could do.”
Lately Courier, 20, has been covering the competition in dust—his own. Though the grass courts of Wimbledon, which starts this week, favor serve-and-volley players, Courier’s blazing backcourt game is a force to be reckoned with. The latest in a line of brash young Americans that extends from Connors through McEnroe to Agassi (his former roommate at Nick Bollettieri’s Florida tennis academy), Courier leaped from 25th at the end of last year to fourth in the world rankings after his unexpected French Open win.
Growing up in Dade City, Fla. (pop. 6,500), Courier got his competitiveness from his father, Jim, 43, a marketing executive and gamesman who, “if he couldn’t beat you with skill, would figure out some other way to do it,” according to his wife, Linda, 43, an elementary school media specialist. By age 11, young Jim was a tennis prodigy at the Harry Hopman Academy in Largo, Fla. He joined Bollettieri at 14 in 1984 and stayed with him until last year. Although he won’t admit it, the victory over Agassi had to be sweet; Andre, a peacock, complete with dangling earring and spandex biking shorts, was always a Bollettieri favorite. Two years ago Courier said he felt as if he were “playing second fiddle” to his roommate, which induced Agassi to muse, “Second fiddle? Sounds like an insecurity problem.”
Agassi’s pop-psychologizing aside, Courier often seemed as tight during matches as an overstrung racket. In November, though, he hooked up with his present coach, Jose Higueras, who reminded him that tennis is, among other things, a game. “I’m a very competitive person,” says Courier. “But Jose made me understand that you can’t think if you’re too excited, and you play better when you’re thinking.” Under Higueras he has already won three tournaments.
Preparing for Wimbledon, Courier, $451,660 richer, returned to Dade City with thoughts of trading in his ’89 Saab for a new Porsche. Another thing he’s going to have to replace is his trademark baseball cap, which he impulsively hurled into the crowd after his victory. He later regretted the gesture. “Boy, was it grungy at the end,” he says. “But I’d give anything to have it back.”
DON SIDER in Dade City