Had they been playing darts, they would have punctured the tavern wall. Had they been at a carnival, they would have cracked both the sledgehammer and the bell. As it was, Court One at Stade Roland Garros in Paris barely escaped demolition last week when two American teenagers set out to prove not only which one was the most macho but also which one would be Cain and which one would be Dis-Abled.
To most Parisians the match was nothing more than a routine third-rounder at the French Open, one in which their beloved Andre Agassi—don't snicker; these are the same folks who still think Jerry Lewis is hysterical—would make ratatouille of somebody named Jim Courier. But when both young men's shots started ricocheting off the dirt and into the backstops with explosive bursts—the likes of which the locals had not witnessed in, oh, maybe 200 years when the Bastille fell—everyone realized this match was special. For Courier, 18, a native of Dade City, Fla., who for too many years has been about as close to Agassi as Agassi's faded denim britches, yet miles away recognition-wise, surely it was.
Just last month Agassi defeated Courier in the Tournament of Champions at Forest Hills in three close sets. In February in Philadelphia, Agassi won their first meeting as pros in two close sets. Before that were matches in a couple of junior tournaments—Courier did come out on top once—and all those practice sessions and challenge matches over the past 4� years at the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Bradenton, Fla., where Agassi and Courier were roommates for a spell. Agassi always won those battles too.
Then one day Agassi, who's older by 110 days, went off to join the circus and become a star. "He was out on the back courts with the others. But he was spunky: he had flair, marketability, and he was different-looking," said Bollettieri last week in Paris, referring to Agassi's triple-toned, rat-tailed, blow-dried haircut. Bollettieri's favoritism led Courier to feel, in his own words, "like I was playing second fiddle."
"Second fiddle?" Agassi said last week. "Sounds like an insecurity problem to me."
"I'm insecure?" Courier said when told of Agassi's comment. "Let's talk."
That's how it went a few minutes after the match between these allegedly close friends, so you can imagine what kind of talking the intensely puissant. 6'1", 173-pound Courier did with his racket during his 7-6, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 victory. To borrow from the loser's rock 'n' roll vernacular, the match was a case of heavy metal over guns 'n' poses.
Not that Agassi was shocked. "Every time I play the guy he gets as high as he can be," said Agassi, who was the fifth seed in Paris. "[Courier] is the most powerful player on tour. He's like, 'I'm going to hit this as hard as I can. Then when I get a short ball I'm going to hit it harder.' He doesn't even think out the point. I rely more on thinking."
Double-handers, double-talk. Those who witnessed the carnage on the clay didn't perceive much deep reflection on either side of the net, but they couldn't have missed Courier's initial displeasure at having to play Agassi's foil. The match began last Saturday evening, with Agassi entering the court by himself, brandishing his electric-yellow racket and waving, as is his custom, to wild hosannas. Minutes later, out stalked Courier, grim and tight-lipped. "I had the eye of the tiger," he said later. "I've heard that 'Rah-rah, Andre, we love you' before. I wasn't going to be intimidated."
But he was perturbed. In their meeting at Forest Hills, Bollettieri and Bill Shelton of IMG, the manager of record for both competitors, sat with Agassi's brother, Phil, in an obvious show of support for the favorite. The same threesome was together at courtside in Paris. "I understand the rankings situation," said Courier, who's No. 47 on your ATP scorecard and who does at least get to travel with a Team Bollettieri assistant, Sergio Cruz. "But it's tough thinking, God, is my coach rooting for me or against me? You think Agassi, you automatically think Bollettieri. Jim Courier doesn't enter that equation."