Between turning the pages, of Armistead Maupin's Maybe the Moon, the world No 2 failed to convert four match points against the Ukrainian Andrei Medvedev, and was subsequently defeated, 6-3, 1-6, 7-6. Another chapter closed on his challenge for the Tour Championship.
There are many examples of players reading tracts, or coaching tips or letters from mothers during moments of respite. But nobody can a recall a player losing himself in fiction.
Maybe the Moon 'delights, amuses and angers you with the lightest of touches' (the blurb says). This is not always true of Courier, whose eccentricity could be dismissed were it not for ominous cracks appearing in his game.
In the previous two years, Courier has lost in the final here, to Pete Sampras and Boris Becker. Defeats by Michael Chang and Medvedev rendered his appearance against Michael Stich in the round robin tonight of limited interest. The German former Wimbledon champion is already guaranteed a place in tomorrow's semi-finals and will play either Stefan Edberg or Goran Ivanisevic. Sampras meets Medvedev.
Since losing the French Open title to Sergi Bruguera and finishing runner-up to Sampras at Wimbledon, Courier has rarely been able to produce his customary assertive form. Sampras, a friend and rival since boyhood, supplanted Courier as the No 1 in April, and though the ranking briefly changed hands in August, Sampras was already certain to end the year at the top before the Tour finale.
Though prone to lulls in the latter part of the year, Courier's slump has been more pronounced this time. He has lost four matches in a row for the first time. His timing is suspect, and so is his nerve.
The novel was not the only indication that Courier's mind was elsewhere. He neglected to bring his trademark cap from the hotel. Then, when leading 2-1 with a break in the second set, he went over to his coach, Jose Higueras and said: 'You know what's going through my head? I wonder if Nafta was passed.' The North American Free Trade Agreement was passed, though not as often as Courier.
After being interviewed, Courier returned for a 45- minute practice with Higueras. It was 1am. They worked chiefly on the backhand. 'It was the most positive practice we've had for three months,' the coach said. A pity, then, that Courier's season is over.
The interviews added to the confusion, Courier chosing to seek refuge in irony.
What was the book? 'Entertainment.'
Why had he read it?. 'I just felt like doing it. It is an interesting book. I felt like reading.'
How would he describe his state of mind? 'I have never been more focused or concentrated.'
Sampras defeated Edberg 6-3, 7-6, the quality of the tennis underlining that gimmicks can never replace the genuine article. 'It was fun' as Sampras said. Medvedev outlasted Chang 2-6, 6-4, 6-2.
Ivanisevic stayed in contention after experiencing symptoms which sent him to hospital in Monte Carlo last year. An inhaler helped him through the second set of a 6-4, 7-6 win against Bruguera. 'I started to feel very dizzy, like my heart was going pretty fast,' the Croat said.
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