He scrounged up $50 to spend a day at the academy. Knowing she couldn't afford many more days, Linda persuaded Hopman to watch Jim hit. Hopman was so impressed by the boy's power that he took him on for free.
Two years later Jim reached the finals of the 14-and-under division at the Orange Bowl junior championships and was offered a full scholarship to Nick Bollettieri's Tennis Academy in Bradenton, Fla. It was there that he trained and briefly bunked with Agassi. On sunny days he would take on Agassi outdoors. "Andre always won," Courier says. On rainy days they would slug it out indoors. "Andre always won," Courier says.
The Las Vegas-born Agassi, who plays as if auditioning for a casino version of Showboat, eventually commanded most of Bollettieri's attention. Though Jim became the first player since Bjorn Borg to win consecutive Orange Bowl championships, in 1986 and '87, he still had to travel to tournaments with one of Bollettieri's assistants. "Jim called home many times to tell us he wanted to leave," says his old man. "I'd tell him, 'Work your ass off, and if things don't improve, that's O.K.' "
But the harder Courier worked, the less things worked out. While playing Agassi in the third round of the 1989 French Open, Courier spied Bollettieri sitting courtside with Andre's brother, Phil. "Nick was clapping for Andre, cheering him on," says Courier. He whips his head to the side, as if wincing, and chuckles a bit flatly. "I realized Nick didn't want me to win. It kind of hurt me."
When Courier left Bollettieri in early 1990, he was an insecure, incomplete player who relied almost exclusively on power. "Jim had only one gear, the fast gear," says Jose Higueras, the Spaniard who became Courier's coach 16 months ago. "He confused tense*with intense. He had never been asked to think, so his game was easy to figure out."
Higueras is the maestro who orchestrated Michael Chang's 1989 French Open victory. Under Higueras's guidance, Courier has developed more variety in his game and better judgment in his shot making. "Over and over I told him, 'The worst that can happen is you lose,' " says Higueras. "And I told him, 'Even to lose is not so bad.' "
The teachings of Don Jose didn't sink in until Courier played Agassi last March in a tournament in Indian Wells, Calif. Courier had already dropped the first set 6-2. "It wasn't like I saw a burning bush," he says. "It was more of a burning forehand from Andre."
Rather than continue trading blasts with Agassi from the baseline, Courier began to vary his angles, speeds and spins. He won the last two sets 6-3, 6-4. "That was the first match I ever won with my head," he says. "I'm calmer, more cool-headed. Of course, I'm still a hitter, but now I can hit and think at the same time."
That ability eluded Agassi in last June's French Open final. Up a set and leading Courier 3-1 in the second, he seemed in control when a shower briefly halted play. During the delay. Higueras instructed Courier to back up on Agassi's serve to give himself a better chance of making a deep return and getting into some rallies. From his new redoubt. Courier won the second set 6-4. He lost the third badly, but he won the fourth by mixing up his shots so well that Agassi ended up spraying balls all over the stadium. Courier won 12 of the first 13 points in the fourth set and then took the fifth and the match.
"Beating Andre at Roland Garros was a sort of vindication," says Courier, grinning broadly. Does he still resent Bollettieri? "No," he says after a short pause. "Nick fed me, put a roof over my head and provided me with great competition."