After he appeared at an Indiana Pacers match-up against the Miami Heat in December, Jim Courier, a former No. 1 star in professional men’s tennis and four-time Grand Slam tournament champion, talked to us about his impending PowerShares Series exhibition downtown on Valentine’s Night. Joining him: the legendarily explosive John McEnroe, the classically stoic Ivan Lendl, and former Age of Love reality TV hunk Mark Philippoussis, another retired star of the sport.
Here we are at the Five Seasons Sports Club in Indianapolis. Talk about turning 21 in Indy. You probably have some vivid memories of the city.
I do. I’ve been coming here since I was 16. And I remember when there wasn’t much downtown. I remember when the Hyatt hotel was basically your only option. When the Spaghetti Factory was basically your only option for pasta. And as great as St. Elmo is, it’s not really the diet of a tennis player. So you go there at the end of the tournament or before [it] started. God, I remember so much. I remember my mom driving up from Florida to watch me play when I was a junior, with my little brother, who was like 3 years old at the time, all the way to playing Davis Cup here, being able to win the tournament here. I have any memories of going to the hospital for IVs when you got caught on a hot, humid day in August.
I remember vividly playing Boris Becker in a quarterfinal match. I’m pretty sure it was a quarterfinal match. But I had cramped up the day before against Jason Stoltenberg. I hadn’t gone to the hospital, and I cramped up again at night at the hotel. At this point in time, the hotel was the Embassy Suites. I came out to the courts, tried to warm up. My body hurt so badly that I just abandoned the warm-up, came in and told my coach, “I’m not going to play, I can’t play.” Then they got the [ATP] Tour trainer, Todd Snyder, who would become our Davis Cup trainer, to talk to me. He said, “We’re not going to put you at risk. But let’s 15 minutes before match time get you a jump rope, and we’re going to try to get you sweating and your body temperature up. And go out there and try to play. If it feels bad, or if you feel a risk, we’ll pull the plug.”
And I went out there against Boris and realized that I couldn’t move. So I just tried to hit every ball for a winner and threw him completely off. I won the first set, and should’ve won the second set. I think I served for the match once if not twice.
And I completely choked trying to close the match out. I knew the window was closing, and sure enough, we got into the third set, and my body started to shut down. I started cramping again in the third set, and I defaulted the match early in the third. But that was on my birthday.
Happy birthday. Memorable.
I think it was my 20th birthday, if I’m not mistaken.
So not your 21st.
Yeah, I lost in the semis on my 21st, I think, to Pete Sampras.
Turning to the PowerShares Series now, how do you prepare for a 130, 140 mile-per-hour Mark Philippoussis serve?
By trying to get people to stand in close to the service line and rip serves at me so my reflexes catch up to it. [laughs] The people I typically practice with are very, very good, a lot of them ex-pros, but they don’t serve at his level because there are very few players who do that.
No Scud missiles.
Exactly. It’s all about just getting guys to stand up four feet inside the service line and hit it as hard as they can, and you just react. It’s like anything, if you see enough of it, it starts to feel comfortable. But if you haven’t seen it, it’s a real shock to the system. I definitely need to have guys up there banging some serves at me.
So we’ve got Ivan Lendl, John McEnroe, Philippoussis, and you coming to Indianapolis.
It’s Valentine’s Day, and you’ve got to be with the one you love. I’m going to be with Johnny Mac and Phlip, and Lendl.
The ones you love.
The ones I love. That’s right.
PowerShares Series Tennis. Friday, Feb. 14, 7 p.m. Bankers Life Fieldhouse. powersharesseries.com