Jim still Open-hearted
Tennis commentator Jim Courier loves the Oz Open, writes Ross Brundrett
ASK Jim Courier whether his love affair with the Australian Open is starting to wane and he just about jumps right down your throat.
‘‘Are you kidding me? It’s like zero degrees here in New York City. I can’t wait to get over there and get some sunshine.’’
For the best part of the past two decades, Courier has been heading our way for the hottest Grand Slam event on the calendar.
The first was as a player (winning it twice) and, since 2005, as a commentator for Channel Seven. This year he will once again join Bruce McAvaney, Johanna Griggs, Matthew White and his US compatriot Tracy Austin.
The red-headed former world No.1 has made quite a name for himself with his straight-shooting style and sense of fun during the player interviews on court, but considers his TV persona ‘‘a work in progress’’.
‘‘I think the players respond because they know I’m one of them and I do a bit of homework. I’m like a lawyer, I never ask a question I don’t know the answer to.
‘‘I don’t do a lot of TV commentary, just the US Open and the Australian each year and it’s a different expectation in the US. . . (where) you are expected to talk a lot more.
‘‘In Australia they say I talk too much so that’s one of the things I have to keep working at,’’ he says over the phone.
The fact Courier commentates on so few tournaments means he keeps a fresh perspective on the game.
Certainly, he refuses to believe the sport has become boring.
He’s heard it all before — how there is no flair, and how today’s game has none of the characters like McEnroe and Agassi.
‘‘I’ll guarantee that in 10 years everyone will be talking nostalgic-like about the good old days of Federer and Nadal,’’ he says.
‘‘The fact is they hit the ball harder now than ever before and they run harder than ever before so no, I don’t think there is anything wrong with the way the game is being played.’’
He admits that serve-volleyers were now almost extinct, but nothing short of a return to wooden racquets and old strings would change that. ‘‘It would be like trying to put the toothpaste back in the tube,’’ he says.
‘‘As for Hawk Eye, that has been tremendous for the sport and I wouldn’t change it in any way.
‘‘No, if you are asking me what changes I would introduce to the sport then I would say nothing . . . it’s pretty well ticking all the boxes right now.’’
His tips for the open are Novak Djokovic (‘‘he’s been very good in the second half of 2009’’) and the combustible Serena Williams, who recently lashed out at her $190,000 fine for abusing a lineswoman at the US Open, calling it ‘‘excessive and sexist’’.
‘‘She’s the best woman player around . . . but that penalty was about right and it wasn’t sexist in the least. I don’t think there are any grounds for her claim that there are double standards (between the sexes),’’ he says.
Asked to nominate a player on the rise who might also get a few hearts racing, he offered up 19-year-old Dane, Caroline Wozniacki.
‘‘She was runner-up to Serena in the US Open . . . and she’s easy on they eye.’’
And unlike past glamour gals on the circuit, most notably Anna Kournikova, Wozniacki has already proven herself to be mentally and physically tough enough to mix it with the game’s best.
In Doha before Christmas she famously overcame a crippling bout of cramp to beat Russia’s Vera Zvonareva in the $5 million season-ender.
‘‘I wasn’t scared. I was just thinking, ‘How can I get up from here?’ It didn’t matter which muscle I was moving, I was cramping,’’ the blonde teenager said at the time. ‘‘I wanted to reach the hands of someone. But I wasn’t allowed to find my way up. I have absolutely no idea how I won.’’
Not that she is likely to get all the attention at the Open, especially now that Australian golfer Adam Scott is going out with former world No.1 Ana Ivanovic, already being dubbed ‘‘Aussie Ana’’.
Ivanovic, 21, has said she understands publicity surrounding her relationship with Scott will make her even more popular.
‘‘I really love it here and have been saying it for years — the crowds are very warm and knowledgeable about tennis,’’ she said.
FOR Courier, knowledge comes from constantly updating performances on his laptop and always keeping an eye on new talent.
Regarded in his heyday as an all-round player, on and off the court, Courier, 39, happily admits he has now settled down.
When he is not commentating or playing on the senior tour (where he is the No.1-ranked player), he is looking after his sports promotion business.
‘‘One day I would love to captain the US Davis Cup team, but that’s about it. I certainly don’t want to coach individual players on the circuit,’’ he says of his ambitions in the game.
He says he no longer has a presence in the dating game either after finding his love match a couple of years ago.
Which somehow brings us to the topic of Tiger Woods.
‘‘Yeah, I know him, but I haven’t seen him for years. Not since I played tennis with him at Todd Woodbridge’s house, which was near his place,’’ Courier says.
And no, there was no entourage of gal-pals hanging around that day . . .
Net assets: (left) Jim Courier returns to serve at the Australian Open, naming Danish player Caroline Wozniacki (above) as one to watch.