Courier’s gift of the gab

  • Alex Sharp
  • Getty Images

“I might throw him a vanilla question and all of a sudden, it’s got chocolate syrup and sprinkles on top because he’s gone in three or four directions.”

Jim Courier is eulogising about the ease and enjoyment of an on-court interview with Roger Federer.

The American rarely throws in a vanilla question, and is firmly established as one of the most revered tennis broadcasters.

It’s easy to forget, thanks to his media presence, that Courier ruled between the confines of the court to lift consecutive Australian Open titles 25 years ago.

Arriving back at Melbourne Park in 1993, Courier was defending champion and was raring to go.

“I felt quite confident, I had a wonderful ‘92 and finished the year No.1. It was a very strong year for me and I was very fit after a perfect off-season,” Courier told ausopen.com

“It may have been my best run of consistency in matches in my career en route to the final,” added the American, who soared through to the decider without dropping a set.

“I played extremely well throughout the tournament, I was very stingy with very few unforced errors at the back end of that title run.”

It was a blazing hot day in Melbourne. “About 42 or 44 in the air, about 70 on the court,” recalled Courier.

The-then world No.1 eventually toppled Swede Stefan Edberg 6-2 6-1 2-6 7-5. 

“I got a really quick start, then Stefan, being the great champion that he is, put up some serious resistance. 

“The fourth set was a dogfight, I struggled to close the match out, losing a couple of match points. It was with extreme relief and joy that I won that match,” admitted the 47-year-old. 

“I remember watching waiting courtside for the trophy ceremony, Stefan and I were cramping up because the heat had toasted us.”

I come up with all the questions, I have to control the process, to move the interview in a certain direction. There’s no ropes out there, you do the best you can
Jim Courier on his post-match on-court interviews

The 1992 triumph is famous for Courier’s brave celebratory jump into the murky Yarra River, but a repeat showing proved problematic 12 months on.

“Due to the cramping, I had to delay my dip in the Yarra. My coach and I had a couple of attempts to leave the locker room, but my legs kept seizing up and I didn’t want to drown,” quipped Courier. “We eventually did get in there and fortunately escaped unscathed.”

Courier’s professional career, when it ended in 2000, featured four Grand Slam titles, two Davis Cup trophies and a total of 58 weeks as world No.1 between 1992 and 1993. Soon, he was making a seamless transition to his second career. 

“I love this sport and it’s one of my highlights each year to come down here to be able to work with Channel 7 and Tennis Channel (US),” he said. 

“It’s a privilege to keep coming here to witness history.”

Courier’s post-match interviews have become compulsory viewing. Fans, players and media marvel at his well-formulated and jovial delivery. No ego, no grilling, just a compelling combination of tennis questioning and alternative topics.

“I think my main connection here in Australia is with the on-court interviews. I seem to get the most feedback from that from people in the street,” he said. 

“They tend to enjoy the interaction that players have after the matches and I think it’s a challenging role, because I come up with all the questions, I have to control the process, to move the interview in a certain direction. There’s no ropes out there, you do the best you can. 

“The players are happy, they’ve just won. It’s a great moment for them and not a challenging scenario for them. I have an opportunity to showcase their personalities, which is something that has evolved and has been led by Roger Federer.”

His first-ever on court interview was, in fact, the Swiss maestro back in 2005. Incredibly, Courier struggles to recollect the occasion. 

“I can’t remember too much from the first one, I just remember I was petrified because I hadn’t done it before. I’m sure it was absolutely atrocious!

“But Federer is so generous in those moments and I think the other players feel they should follow suit. He’s helped us all do good on-court interviews. Roger has done us a great service.”

Courier was at his best on Friday night, after Federer had booked his place in a 30th major final, as he conjured a gem of a nine-minute interview which teased from the 19-time Grand Slam champion that he has a trophy cabinet back at home.

“It’s glorious, I love it,” revealed Federer. “It doesn’t have all of them, but sometimes I go look at them and think ‘wow’. 

“I don’t like it to be all tennis, so it’s one room. But when friends come over we sometimes take a look at it. I’m very proud of it, of course.”

Courier also managed to cajole Federer into revealing that he randomly met final opponent Marin Cilic on holiday in the off-season and the top-10 duo practiced together on vacation.

Great insight, which was offered up willingly by a relaxed Roger.

“He’s the easiest player to interview, the most fun. He takes it in directions that I can never predict,” Courier said. 

“He might be talking about his wife Mirka, or his kids, who knows. He might throw something back at me, that’s the fun part. He’s very quick, obviously very intelligent.

“But I enjoy almost all of them. There are very few that have been car crashes.”

That’s an understatement. Very few end without chocolate syrup and sprinkles on top.