Tennis Star Talks Up Bankers Life Fieldhouse

Jim Courier, the current U.S. Davis Cup captain, speaks to playing the sport indoors, John McEnroe’s ongoing brilliance, and more.

Jim Courier has a lot of titles: He’s a four-time Grand Slam singles champion (that’s two French Opens and two Australian Opens in professional tennis), a frequent tennis commentator on television, the current captain of the U.S. Davis Cup squad for that international event, and a former junior upstart who first came to Indianapolis in 1986, seeking to qualify for entry into the main draw of the U.S. Clay Court Championships, based here at the time. He won the pro tour stop in Indy, later moved to hard courts, in 1993, beating Boris Becker, after finishing runner-up to Pete Sampras the year before.

He’s 43 years old, but not really slowing down in his retired days, continuing to work in tennis by way of his InsideOut Sports Entertainment company and his play on the PowerShares Series. Former pros who play on that circuit must have appeared in a Grand Slam final (at one of the aforementioned events, Wimbledon, or the U.S. Open) or been ranked in the top five in their playing days. Here, excerpts from IM‘s second interview (here’s the first) with Courier, this one just before he took to matches against Mark Philippoussis and legendary champion/hothead John McEnroe (the night’s titleist) on a temporary tennis court set up where the Indiana Pacers play:

On playing tennis at Bankers Life Fieldhouse: “What’s great about this arena is the setup of it compared to some other arenas. It’s much tighter. A lot of arenas, you get hockey-sized arenas, and you get a lot of space between the baseline and the front rows. And that creates a little bit of an awkward atmosphere when you have 20 yards between the fans and the court. It just feels a little funky. I like how it’s set up, and the front-row seats are awesome seats, like the front row in the president’s box at the U.S. Open. I think it’s a really nice venue, and the Jumbotron for the fans is great.”

About bringing the sport’s stars back to Indy: “That’s an obvious reason for us to be here. There is a group of people who grew up here with tennis as a part of their year, and looked forward to that RCA [Championships] tournament every year and having something to call their own. Yeah, they can go to Cincinnati; it’s not too, too far to get to, but they can’t stay home to watch it. So to come in here for a one-night event, with guys who have all played well in Indianapolis historically, I think it makes a lot of sense.”

His first memory in Indy: “We got wild cards into the qualifying of U.S. Clay Courts [Championships] here in 1986. I was supposed to play the Italian juniors. The USTA [U.S. Tennis Association] was sending some to the European junior championships. There was some sort of a terrorist scare or a threat against Americans, so we didn’t go over. I was 15 years old, or maybe just 16 at the time.”

About engaging the audience and interacting with his peers in PowerShares matches: “If I had [a sense of humor], that would help. I show what I have. The key for this is to just be comfortable enough in your skin to know that you can interact with the crowd and then re-focus. It’s not going to cost you the next point. When you’re younger, you just don’t know that you have those capabilities, and so you stay inside of a much more narrow silo. Now you’ll see even Ivan [Lendl] cracking a joke, which is saying something.”

On McEnroe’s fit-at-55 status: “If I’m able to play at the level he’s playing when I’m in my 50s, I would be surprised. My style of tennis is just so much different from his; he plays an effortless style, and mine’s a grinder style. I’ll hope to be that lucky. The battle there is just as much with my body as anything else.”

About Johnny Mac’s game: “One of John’s beautiful things is that his game isn’t power based. He can absorb power and redirect it. You’ll see it tonight. It’s pretty remarkable what he’s able to do on the court. He lost last night to Andy Roddick, 7-5. He was in that, with a chance.”

As to the indoor play: “This is not a fast court. It’s a pretty gritty, fairly slow hard court. This is one of my better surfaces. I like the controlled environment in this stage of my life.”