A couple of antique Davis Cuppers went to Indianapolis last week
to bask in the sun like old lions. Lately the former top cats,
Jim Courier and Andre Agassi, have been roaring ineffectually on
the ATP tour. But in Davis Cup, they're still kings of the
jungle. On the hard courts of the Indianapolis Tennis Center,
Courier and Agassi demolished a pair of Belgian clay courters to
help the U.S. win 4-1 and move to a semifinal in September
against Italy. "Davis Cup is like a tournament in which you go
straight to the finals," said Courier after beating Filip Dewulf
6-3, 7-6, 2-6, 6-3 in the opening singles match last Friday.
"Winning gives you a euphoric feeling that can carry over to the
That's not likely for Courier. Since surrendering his No. 1
ranking in 1993, he has been hampered by shoulder, arm and knee
injuries. He hasn't made the finals of a Grand Slam tournament
since Wimbledon in '93 and is ranked 47th.
Lord Jim The U.S. is 12-0 in Davis Cup ties in which the
ever-ready Courier has played.
Yet Courier, 27, is not going gentle into his sunset years. As
tenacious as ever, he has metamorphosed into America's foremost
Davis Cup patriot. His most recent heroics came three months ago
in Stone Mountain, Ga., when he stepped onto the court with the
U.S. and Russia tied 2-2. After dropping the first eight games of
the deciding match, Courier spared his country the shame of an
opening-round defeat by outlasting Marat Safin 0-6, 6-4, 4-6,
6-1, 6-4. The U.S. has never lost a Davis Cup tie in which
Courier has played, going 12-0. "I have nothing to say about
that," says Courier. "You don't talk about a no-hitter when
you're in the dugout."
The fade of the 28-year-old Agassi has been more dramatic. Ranked
No. 1 for 30 weeks in '95 and briefly in early '96, he won only
12 matches and no titles in '97. By last November his ranking had
plunged to 141. "Andre would just stay in the middle of the court
and try to slap winners," says Courier. "If a ball was two feet
to the right or left, he'd just stand there." Embarrassed by his
ponderous play, Agassi lost 18 pounds and found his stroke by
dropping down to the Challenger circuit, the tennis equivalent of
Triple A. He made the final of the first event he entered, in
November, and won the second the following month.
Revitalized, Agassi sailed through an ATP tournament in February,
brutalizing Pete Sampras in the final, 6-2, 6-4. In March he won
again, this time in Scottsdale. But after losing in the finals of
the Lipton and in Munich, Agassi's sizzle fizzled. He lost in the
first round at the French Open and in the second round at
Wimbledon. His ranking seems stuck at 18.
"Is Andre conditioned enough to win a tournament of
five-setters?" asks John McEnroe, whose last great victories
came in Davis Cup. "Best-of-three matches, he can get away with.
But in best-of-five you have to contend with fatigue, both
physical and mental. The older you get, the tougher it is to
stay focused." Davis Cup matches are five-setters, but a singles
player faces no more than two of them. As for focus, Agassi had
plenty last Friday to rout Christophe Van Garsse in straight
sets. The awestruck Belgian had nearly as many double faults
(14) as Agassi had unforced errors (16) and actually thanked
Agassi for giving him such a sound thrashing.
How many lives are left in these big cats? "If Courier is happy
being 45th or 50th in the world, he can continue indefinitely,"
says McEnroe. "But Jim has enormous pride, and that may stand in
Money may be what keeps Agassi going. Despite his skid, Agassi
makes more in endorsements$14 million annuallythan anyone else
in tennis, $6 million more than Sampras. "It's hard to quit when
you're making that much dough," McEnroe says. "Maybe it's also
hard to keep motivated, but Pete figured out how this year at
Issue date: July 27, 1998