Tennis / Wimbledon '93: Courier draws strength from moments of isolation: A quiet American at the baseline takes heart from the style of a fellow student's victory in last year's final. Trevor Haylett reports

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The Independent Online
THE housebreakers who made off with Jim Courier's favourite guitar, his mountain bike and a large amount of cash last week also burgled the notion that away from the courts the man from Dade City, Florida, for so long the world No 1, can live in total anonymity.

Just a couple of days before, those who believe he is a superstar only in the estimation of the serious tennis writers and the computer would not have been surprised at what happened when he pulled up outside a Wimbledon video store. Getting out among the stream of fans heading for the Underground, Courier was able to choose his film, queue with the other Joe Southfields to pay and leave with not so much as a 'don't I know you?' look flashed in his direction.

It is how he likes it and how he wishes it could always be. No hassle, no requests for autographs. A serious businessman allowed to go about his serious business of bashing tennis balls to accumulate vast wealth without recourse to the peripheral things that make it so hard to be famous.

Whether it is the cap he wears which makes him unrecognisable away from tennis or whether it is his personality that one cynic suggested yesterday could not be discovered or stolen by even the cleverest of thieves, Courier, the No 1 seed 12 months ago and rated third this fortnight, is almost the forgotten man of the championships, making his way quietly through the card but no less effectively.

'I like to slide in and out and the less kind of commotion the better,' the Australian champion and the French runner-up said. 'If I win this event one of these years then I don't think it will be the same but I haven't made it through to the semi-finals yet. The English people are used to seeing the same faces to the end and up to now they haven't seen me there.'

It is easy to think he would be happy slugging his way to the title in front of empty seats. Whereas Andre Agassi, his fellow scholar from the Nick Bollettieri academy, obviously feeds on the adulation and attention of a full house like a performing seal needs his bucket of fish, Courier can shut himself away under his white hat, shut out all the pandemonium going on around him and grind his way to another win.

There was a moment in his third-round match that was the perfect illustration of his blinkered approach. The Centre Court crowd were in ferment. Jason Stoltenberg, the bespectacled Australian ascending the rankings, had just taken the third set to trail 2-1 and Courier was facing additional trouble from the umpire Jeremy Shales who had detected an obscenity that brought the American a warning (and almost certainly a fine).

The spectators - middle Saturday, People's Day, is always the most vocal - were chanting 'Jason, Jason' like teenyboppers paying homage to Stoltenberg's compatriot, a certain J Donovan. In between choruses they practised their Mexican wave.

Courier? He was a rock of strength in difficult waters. Towelling himself down, he adjusted his cap for the umpteenth time, left his spat with Shales along with all his other bits and pieces beside the umpire's chair and immediately went out to break his opponent's next service game and secure the advantage in the fourth set. Nine games later victory was his.

For solid temperament, stickability, and an aggressive win-at-all- costs ethic, Courier is without peer among his generation. The pounds 305,000 question is whether his game can take home the greatest prize of all and, ironically, he has Agassi to thank for showing him that grass need not be out of bounds to the baseline brigade.

'In the off season I took time to look back on the year and reflect on Andre's success at Wimbledon,' he said. 'We play very similar games and his performance changed a lot of people's minds about how you have to play here.

'Previously I have always tried to play like someone else and there's no reason for me to do that. I've tried to be a natural serve and volleyer, coming in on everything, first and second serve, but this year I'm doing what needs to be done. If I think that it's better that I stay back then I do so. I'm not a natural serve and volleyer, my game is baseline orientated and I think I can play it effectively against a few players.

'I should just go out and do what I do best and if I lose then at least I go out with my No 1 game. We've been fortunate with the weather and the courts are in pretty good shape. They are playing more like hard courts. The ball bounces higher and higher and that suits someone like me who likes to hit groundstrokes.'

The 22-year-old baseball fanatic has never forgotten that Bollettieri preferred the potential of the colourful Las Vegan rather than his pin-stripe respectability and to take Agassi's cherished crown would be sweet revenge indeed. Having progressed at least one round further than in 1992, when, in the tournament's biggest slaying, the Russian qualifier Andrei Olhovskiy prevailed in four sets, Courier next faces the 13th seed, Wayne Ferreira.

Other results have been kind to him and thereafter he is scheduled to avoid a seed before his allotted place in the semi-finals where Stefan Edberg should await him. 'There's no reason for me to speculate about winning until we get down to the nitty gritty,' Courier said, conforming to type. 'It's still too early but, yes, with every victory I am becoming more and more confident.'

(Photograph and graphics omitted)