Discreet, normal, down-to-earth is how Courier is described by Morgane Frühwirth, his French-born, Rio-raised girlfriend. She says, "He's never going to wear sunglasses at night or burst into the locker room in a screaming-pink shirt, saying, 'Look at me, I'm the best.' Sometimes Jim wants to give a really tough image of a macho man. But then you smile at him. and he melts like hot sugar."
Courier met his girl from Ipanema last year at Roland Garros. In addition to a Florida condo, they share a town house in Palm Desert, Calif. Every object in the town house's living room—lamp, couch, coffee table—is adorned with a yellow Post-it inscribed in French. "I'm giving Jim a Berlitz course," says Frühwirth, a graduate of the Sorbonne. "We have many dialogues. Usually simple ones like, 'Hello. Are you hungry? Are you angry? Do you want to go to bed soon?' "
And how does Jim respond?
"He'll say, 'No, I want to brush my teeth.' "
"The bottom line," Courier interjects, "is that we're not doing anything we're not going to do in English."
When not flossing, Courier serenades Frühwirth on his Fender Stratocaster. A favorite ballad is Toad the Wet Sprocket's Scenes from a Velvet Recliner. "Jimbo's voice isn't ready for the stage yet," says Linda. "He sounds like a lonely tennis player to me."
According to Frühwirth, the Couriers "represent the American family with their own house, children, the backyard, and the microwave in the kitchen." Courier's father, also named Jim, is an executive with a fruit juice pressing company; Linda is a onetime elementary school librarian. "Jimbo didn't grow up having it all," says Linda. "Early on, he didn't have private coaches or people paying all his travel expenses. He had to fight all the way, and he's a better person for that."
Young Jim's initiation into the sport came through a great-aunt, Emma Spencer, who ran the Dreamwold Tennis Club out of her home in Sanford, Fla. A former women's coach at UCLA, Aunt Emma schooled Jim in tennis etiquette. "She taught him how to behave during matches," Linda says, "and never to chew gum on the court."
Tennis ended Jim's childhood prematurely. "He stopped being a kid at age seven," says Linda, almost elegiacally. "That's when he entered the adult world of having to defend his line calls and his honesty against irate parents who got a little too involved in their childrens' matches.... The more successful he got, the more serious the game became. In the shuffle, Jimbo lost the joy of youth."
By 11, Jim was successful, serious and ready to shuffle off to Largo, Fla., where Harry Hopman, the legendary coach of the great Australian Davis Cup teams of the 1950s and '60s, had a tennis academy. Another player on the junior circuit had been taking lessons there and was beating him. "If I could play five hours a day," Jim told his parents, "I'd get better, too."