Tennis: Disaffected Courier quits indefinitely: Time-out for former world No 1

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The Independent Online
JIM COURIER has added his name to the list of disaffected multi-millionaire players. The former world No 1 marked his 24th birthday yesterday by returning his rackets to their bag indefinitely. 'They are going to stay there until my heart tells me to pick them up again,' the Floridan said, 'and I don't know if that is going to be one day, one week, one month, one year, 10 years.'

The manner of Courier's defeat by Alex Corretja, of Spain, in the second round of the RCA Championships in Indianapolis on Tuesday - 13 days before the start of the United States Open in New York - prompted the sad speech. Courier, the fifth seed and defending champion, took the opening set, 6-1, in only 28 minutes, but then made 42 unforced errors in losing the subsequent sets, 6-4, 6-3.

'It was all my doing,' Courier said. 'I missed a few shots, and I lost interest. I'm tired, physically, mentally and emotionally. I am hitting the ball fine. There is a problem inside, and I am really not sure what it is. The only way to figure it out is to just take a step away. I will just wait and see. Basically, it will come to me. I will have an epiphany at some point, I am sure.'

Though so-called 'burn-out', the physical or mental manifestation of stress or loss of motivation, is more commonly associated with the women's game (the American Jennifer Capriati serving as the latest example), Courier is not the first male player to experience difficulty after spectacular success.

Bjorn Borg, the winner of five consecutive Wimbledon singles titles and six times the French champion, walked away from the sport in 1982 at the age of 26, and made an abortive comeback to the tour nine years later. Mats Wilander began to lose the will to win at Courier's age after becoming the world No 1 at the 1988 United States Open, his third Grand Slam triumph of the year. Wilander made his return at last year's US Open, but nowadays plays chiefly for pleasure.

John McEnroe never regained pre-eminence after taking a seven- month sabbatical in 1986, at the age of 27. Boris Becker, 26, took a two-month break at the end of last year for marriage and the birth of his son. The sensation of Wimbledon as a 17-year-old in 1985 is seeking his first Grand Slam title since the 1991 Australian Open.

Courier, the winner of consecutive French (1991-92) and Australian Open (1992-93) championships and almost pounds 6m in prize- money, has struggled for consistency since being supplanted as the world No 1 by his compatriot, Pete Sampras, 16 months ago.

After losing the French title last year to Sergi Bruguera, of Spain, and finishing runner-up to Sampras at Wimbledon, Courier began a steady decline. His big-hitting baseline style failed to intimidate the Frenchman Cedric Pioline in the fourth round of the US Open, and his eccentric behaviour during the ATP Tour Championship in Frankfurt in November caused concern.

Courier read Armistead Maupin's novel, Maybe the Moon, during change-overs in a match against Andrei Medvedev and failed to convert four match points before losing to the Ukrainian, 6-3, 1-6, 7-6. 'It is an interesting book. I felt like reading it,' Courier said.

His mood showed a marked improvement in April this year, as the European clay-court season gained momentum in Monte Carlo. 'It's funny how you can feel something good coming,' Courier said. He went on to end Sampras's quest for a fourth successive Grand Slam title with an emphatic victory in the quarter-finals of the French Open, before losing to Bruguera again, on this occasion in the semi-finals.

Seeded fifth at Wimbledon, Courier lost in the second round to the Frenchman, Guy Forget, who had only recently returned to the game after a lengthy absence following surgery. The battle-fatigued American now barely commands a place in the top 10.