Tennis / Wimbledon '93: Courier heads for higher ground

Click to follow
JIM COURIER delivered his usual Wimbledon speech about suppressing emotion. Finding an emotion worth supressing was more the problem for the crowd on Court One as Courier won a soporific quarter-final against Todd Martin.

Martin may wear a frontiersman's beard but he was hopelessly ill-equipped to make conquests so far up stream in the men's tournament. Courier himself has yet to reach the high ground of a Wimbledon singles title, but having earned a semi- final meeting with Stefan Edberg tomorrow he is closer than he has been in five visits here. 'Nintendo tennis', as Courier's remorseless baseline style was once described, could yet flourish on grass.

It said much about the imbalance in the men's draw that even in the front row of Court One you could hear more noise emanating from the Centre Court than the seats immediately around you. Across the way, Sampras, Agassi, Stich and Becker were in battle. Out front, and in the bottom half of the draw, Courier and Edberg (who beat Cedric Pioline) were stolidly disposing of the two remaining outsiders in straight sets.

Sometimes the Cyclops line machine can express more ardour than Courier or Edberg, but then, maybe the fault is in us for demanding Oscar-winning shows of feeling from players while they go about the very precise business of winning tennis matches.

On the superficial basis that it will be a final devoid of 'personalities' many here yesterday were groaning at the prospect of a climax on Sunday involving Edberg or Courier plus Pete Sampras from the top half of the draw.

Objecting to Courier's grinding, ball-hammering style is one thing. Dismissing him on the grounds that he is 'colourless' is entirely another. Martin addressed this issue after his 6-2,

7-6, 6-3 defeat against the former world No 1. 'Jim's a very gracious man,' Martin said, 'and it's unfortunate that the rest of the world doesn't understand him as well as maybe they should.'

That said, Courier was nearly disqualified last SaturdaEy for mouthing obscenities in a match, and it was the subject ofTHER write error his normaly unshakeable self- control that again dominated yesterday's post-match discussions. 'It's better not to,' Courier said when asked why he usually showed so little fervour on court. 'I used to be real up and down when I was younger, and I've just kind of suppressed it a little bit. It was on the advice of a few people, and on the realisation that I wasn't doing what I needed to do on court emotionally.' That 'need', presumably, was to crush people.

Even more striking than Courier's resilience is his humility. He can move round Wimbledon in the evenings with the impunity of the fifth, discarded Beatle. 'I take that cap off and I've got no problem,' he said when asked about the recognition factor in London. 'I'm incognito.' On the subject of his tennis, he said: 'I've far surpassed what I thought was possible for me. I keep surprising myself. If you work hard, good things happen.'

Lack of attention may have assisted Courier on his journey to the brink of Sunday's final. 'I've been real kind of almost nonchalant since I've been in England,' he said, showing none of the efficiency with language that he applies to the hitting of tennis balls. 'I think that's probably in large part due to people not taking me that seriously and maybe not taking myself too seriously.'

This is a startling admission from a man who has won the French and Australian Opens twice each and who is the most consistent performer on the men's tour.

'Everybody else seems to think that I'm playing really well. I keep kind of shrugging and saying, 'well, I'm still playing',' Courier said. 'I just go out and swing away and see what happens.'

For Edberg the anomalies pile even higher. Here is a three- times Wimbledon champion and an acknowledged serve-and- volleyer who started favourite for the men's singles when the tournament opened last week. Perhaps the most significant aspect of Edberg's victory yesterday over Pioline was that he recovered from 4-0 down in the second set, thus proving that his brief lapses in form are being quickly corrected.

Edberg, who lives up the road in Kensington, says he cannot remember being so ignored by the media at Wimbledon. 'At least I'll get a short notice after this,' he said.

'I've been trying to find my name in the papers. I'll have to find a shop to buy some Swedish ones.'

(Photograph omitted)