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Dinner to honor retired Courier

The tennis star says it is he who should honor his hometown. The event will raise money for the Dade City YMCA.

By JAMAL THALJI

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 12, 2000


DADE CITY -- Tonight, Dade City honors one of its own, professional tennis great Jim Courier.

Ask Courier, though, and it is he who is honoring Dade City.

To celebrate his recent retirement from the sport he dominated in the early 1990s, an exclusive dinner will be held at First United Methodist Church at 7 p.m. to raise money for the Dade City YMCA.

YMCA boosters will donate thousands of dollars for the chance to eat barbecue from George and Gladys' restaurant alongside Courier and his family and friends. Courier also will sign autographs and pose for pictures.

A video tribute to his career will be shown, and his many accomplishments will all be noted.

But Courier is more concerned with a good cause than celebrating his own career. Dade City is where he grew up, honing his skills in the famous tennis court alongside his childhood home on Southview Avenue.

To Courier, it is his "reality pool" away from a lifestyle and the pressures of the game that has made him a world-renowned celebrity.

"People there are real," he said. "Everyone knows everyone, and everyone there's really genuine, which is nice. But go to New York or L.A., and people have a lot of ulterior motives, using everybody for their own gains.

"People in Dade City are a lot more gentler, a lot more kinder."

Courier's mother, Linda, said she tried to teach her eldest son to appreciate the small-town appeal of Dade City.

"Not everything is the (tennis) life he lived," she said. "What goes on in a little town, that's the reality of life. Families and friends and community and school and all those kinds of things."

Which is why Courier, who now lives in Orlando, still cares enough to make the trek back to Dade City, past the sign at the county line that bears his name.

Then again, it's not like he's actually retiring.

Not at the age of 29. Not after a hugely successful 12-year career in professional tennis, with a legacy of hard work and physical play assured after 506 career wins, 23 singles titles -- including four Grand Slams -- and two Davis Cup victories. Not with a financial future secured by a powerful forehand that reportedly earned him more than $50-million in prize money and endorsements.

Courier is retiring from tennis only. He said his life will be as active, as full, as it has ever been.

He will get to spend more time with his girlfriend, composing music in his home studio, studying his financial investments and laying out plans for the future, playing golf and tennis -- just to stay in shape, of course -- and hanging out with the legion of good friends he has amassed through his remarkable career.

That doesn't even include his future career as a television commentator at Wimbledon this year.

"Retirement is maybe a convenient way to describe a transition," Courier said. "I'm not actually retiring, I'm going to stay active for sure, I'm not just going to head to Sun City, set up shop in a retirement place and play golf every morning at 6:30.

"That's what I'll do when I'm hopefully 75 or 80, but I've got a few years (left.)"

And Courier wants to enjoy every one of them. Which is why the former No. 1 player in the world decided to announce his retirement from the ATP Tour on May 9.

"If he can't put his heart and soul into it, he can't do it," said his mother, who now lives in Tampa. "He's always been a kid who does things with a lot of passion, and if he can't do that, he won't."

His mother said retirement has been on her son's mind for years now. Especially since he had so many other competing interests for his time.

"He's been fussing about (retirement) for a good three years," she said. "He has done it secretly twice before this, and he knew he missed it too much.

"He's struggled with (his) motivation now for a good three years, but he's always found something there that he wanted to come back for. But this time, he's 29, and really the fact that he's enjoyed so much his hobby in music, it became more a passion to him, and he wanted to spend more time with that than on the tennis court.

"You really don't have a normal life (in tennis.) I guess he wanted a fuller life, and he kept shutting out the things he has real passion for."

But he still had enough passion for tennis to return from a debilitating arm injury that threatened his career in 1997. When he retired, Courier said, he was healthy and happy with his game.

"Oh yeah, I thought I played pretty well toward the end," he said. "But when your heart's not there, you just don't feel like competing anymore."

He leaves with no regrets about his past.

He's also eager to begin his new media career, analyzing the action at Wimbledon for a Turner Sports television audience.

"It's what I know best," he said. "Who knows the current generation of players better than I do? I've been playing for 12 years, I pretty much know what's going on and what everyone's thinking."

He still plays a few times a week, in exhibition and team tennis matches. But mostly, his mother said, Courier spends his time with his girlfriend and his music. Playing his own instruments, Courier mixes his own tracks inside his home studio.

"He started out on the Donald Duck drum set, and he beat it until there were holes in it," his mother said, "He was an excellent drummer. He played in the Moore Mickens Junior High band and marched down the middle of Dade City beating his snare drum away.

"And then he taught himself the guitar. He could take it with him on the road and get a lot of pleasure from it in his off-time from tournaments."

So it's not so much his old life that bothered Courier, the one that will be honored tonight; it's just that it was time to start his new one.

"I'm just taking one day at a time," he said. "Chillin' like a villain."

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