Courier ends career after12 classy years

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The Independent Online

American tennis, dreading the time when a generation of champions will be lost - Pete Sampras, Jim Courier, Andre Agassi and Michael Chang - is bidding farewell to the first of the élite group. Courier has announced his retirement three months before his 30th birthday.

"A wise man once told me: 'When you wake up and don't want to get better at tennis, it's time to stop'," Courier said. "That day has been around for most of this year. I've put the nose to the grindstone for more than 12 years with no offseasons. Maybe that's why I'm checking out earlier than the other guys. There's a limited amount of reserves, only so much juice to go around."

Proud to be known as a blue collar champion, Courier epitomised the work ethic, his fitness, determination and fierce ground strokes compensating for what he lacked in finesse and earning him $14m (£9m) in official prize-money alone. "Truthfully, I set out to avoid having a real job, which I think I've successfully accomplished," he said.

The powerful redhead from Florida won the French Open twice in consecutive years, 1991 and '92, and also won the Australian Open twice, in 1992 and 1993, celebrating by diving into River Yarra in Melbourne. He was runner-up at the United States Open in 1991 and at Wimbledon in 1993.

Courier became the world No 1 in February 1992 and reigned for a total of 58 weeks. His career seemed threatened in the summer of 1997, when his right arm went "dead". Acupuncture enabled him to perform close to his peak last year, when some of his most memorable matches took place in Britain.

The first round Davis Cup tie at the National Indoor Arena in Birmingham at Easter was a classic. In the absence of Sampras and Agassi, who declined to play, Courier's heroics gave the visitors a 3-2 victory.

In the opening match, Courier defeated Tim Henman over five sets after four hours and 12 minutes. And in the fifth set of the fifth and final rubber, Courier defeated Greg Rusedski, 8-6, after three hours and 46 minutes.

Given to wearing a cap on court and favouring a Cincinnatti Reds baseball cap when off duty, Courier's eccentric side was revealed when he once read a book during changeovers while playing at the ATP Tour Championship in Frankfurt.

For all his accomplishments, Courier said one of his biggest thrills was to be recognised at the check-out counter of asupermarket in Orlando a few months after returning from Birmingham last year. "Hey!" exclaimed a shop assistant. "You're that Davis Cup guy!"

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