Courier proves to be a quick study
March, 6, 2011
By Sandra Harwitt, ESPN.com | ESPN.com
SANTIAGO, Chile -- It didn't take Jim Courier very long to figure out the hardest part of being the U.S. Davis Cup captain.
"There's nothing that isn't fun, but I think the thing that gives me the most anxiety is not getting in the guys' way," said Courier, who made his debut as captain this past weekend when the U.S. reigned over Chile 4-1 to move into the Davis Cup quarterfinals against Spain.
"We're still getting to know each other in that drama and fire situation. That's the learning curve with me -- to know when to say something and when to shut up. And it's hard for me to shut up."
Courier certainly got the know-when-to-butt out portion of the job quickly. He showed that skill during the Bryan brothers' victory over Chileans Jorge Aguilar and Nicolas Massu. The Bryans were down a break at 5-4 in the third set and needed to break to save the set for a straight-sets victory.
"When they were down a break, on the changeover, I didn't say anything," Courier said. "I could see it in their eyes. It's one of those moments that they've been in that situation before, sitting side by side so many times, and gotten out of those situations. I just let them do their magic. I'm there to support them but not there to get in their way."
In retirement, Courier has become an enthusiastic businessman running InsideOut Sports & Entertainment. But when the opportunity to become the Davis Cup captain was presented last year, he jumped at the chance.
"As a player I always thought that this would certainly be something if I was ever given the opportunity I would want to take advantage of," Courier said. "It's pretty well-documented how passionate I was about Davis Cup as a player. To be alongside these guys and the other American players I hope will participate over the years I will be in this chair is important to me. The things that matter are the majors and competitions like Davis Cup. These guys are going to create memories for themselves, and I'm glad to be here with them."
Almost from the outset, Courier promoted the concept that the 2011 U.S. Davis Cup squad would be a six-man endeavor -- Andy Roddick, Mardy Fish, John Isner, Sam Querrey, Bob and Mike Bryan would all travel to ties, when possible, even though only four guys could play.
For this first-round outing, injury and illness made the decision about who would play easy: Fish was still dealing with a thyroid problem and Querrey had a sore serving shoulder, so both stayed behind.
As the weekend in Santiago unfolded, there was a constant quest to have the players grade Courier's inaugural performance as captain. Courier joked that "They're not allowed to talk about that."
But the four-time Grand Slam champion, who played on the winning U.S. Davis Cup squads in 1992 and 1995, had nothing to worry about at all.
Roddick hadn't played Davis Cup since 2009 and said he missed the "spirit" of the competition, but he was also lured back to the fold by the opportunity to play for Courier.
"He was great," said Roddick, after he clinched the tie, beating Paul Capdeville to give the U.S. an insurmountable 3-1 lead. "You know, when you're with one person [former captain Patrick McEnroe] for 10 years, you might expect a little bit of an awkward transition but that wasn't the case. Jim stepped right in, but he didn't start this week, he started as soon as he got named. He's been the captain for four months.
"It's been a very, very open line of communication. I think he had the right approach in saying we have a six-man team for the year and who plays each individual tie is not so relevant."
Bob Bryan agreed that Courier has proven to be a quick study at captaincy.
"We love playing for Jim," Bob said. "When Patrick stepped down we were all excited to see Jim step in. He's doing a great job so far. He's one of the boys, he's a really smart coach and he has passion for Davis Cup.
"It's fun playing for a guy you idolized growing up."
Interestingly, Roddick was not only impressed by Courier's talent for actual coaching. Most coaches show up on the bench dressed as if they were going to pick up a racket and play.
But not Courier.
"Jim was pretty calm out there," Roddick said. "He had the voice of reason. He had the good dress slacks going. He came out dressed strong. He portrayed a sense of elegance early on, which I thought set the tone."
The plan is to play the quarterfinal tie against Spain on an indoor hard court in July -- Roddick's hometown of Austin, Texas, is the front-runner but Albany, N.Y., and San Antonio are also in the mix as possible venues.
And when they head indoors, don't be surprised to find Courier even more decked out than he was in Santiago. He had asked the USTA if he could dress for success in Santiago -- in a suit, shirt and tie -- and he was told absolutely as long as he wore a suit by Davis Cup sponsor Hugo Boss.
Whatever he wears, Courier proved he's all about business.