Why did Jim Courier retire so early at 30?

Why did Jim Courier retire so early at 30?

  • Lost his edge (either other players catching up or he just couldn't perform as well anymore)

    Votes: 16 40.0%
  • Burnt out

    Votes: 10 25.0%
  • Lost Motivation

    Votes: 10 25.0%
  • Other

    Votes: 4 10.0%

  • Total voters
    40

joe sch

Legend
IMO both loss motivation and burnout ...

Jim Courier reading book changeover


“It was the end of the year; I was fried and looking for solutions.” The reading material would have been labelled a stroke of genius had Courier not gone on to lose, after having four match points in the third set.Mar 4, 2012
 

BGod

Legend
93-94 he was beaten in some big matches but in 95-97 he just started choking big time. Look at several of his losses and you'll see he imploded in most of his losses to top tier guys. So by 99 he was done. 99 Wimbledon he totally should have beaten Henman in R16 but alas. Then he lost to Johansson and Safin at Masters level and loses to someone he had no business losing in straights no less at the USO in the opening round. He finished YE 32 after 77 in 98 but given his losses it's pretty amazing he gave 00 a try at all. And look at his last loss to Enqvist, should have won the match.

But you can see in 93 at the Slams he just lost a step each time, the Bruegera loss, then Sampras (very winnable Wimbledon match) and then Pioline at USO, then he loses in straight sets to Pete as 2 time defending champ at the AO. I think that 4 Slam skid put him in a place of no return, despite him having monumental chokejobs later on I think he wasn't able to mentally win another Major.
 

Musterrific

Professional
93-94 he was beaten in some big matches but in 95-97 he just started choking big time. Look at several of his losses and you'll see he imploded in most of his losses to top tier guys. So by 99 he was done. 99 Wimbledon he totally should have beaten Henman in R16 but alas. Then he lost to Johansson and Safin at Masters level and loses to someone he had no business losing in straights no less at the USO in the opening round. He finished YE 32 after 77 in 98 but given his losses it's pretty amazing he gave 00 a try at all. And look at his last loss to Enqvist, should have won the match.

But you can see in 93 at the Slams he just lost a step each time, the Bruegera loss, then Sampras (very winnable Wimbledon match) and then Pioline at USO, then he loses in straight sets to Pete as 2 time defending champ at the AO. I think that 4 Slam skid put him in a place of no return, despite him having monumental chokejobs later on I think he wasn't able to mentally win another Major.
He took advantage of a power vacuum at the top of the sport in the early 90's with his powerful and unusual inside-out forehand, bagging his 4 slams over a two year period after which the other elite players on the rise figured out his one-dimensional game. As you pointed out, his losses in slams in '93 when he was the dominant player going into the season rattled him mentally. He was never able to make adjustments to his game to reclaim lost ground. He was a proto-Roddick. I'd say given that he was the least naturally talented of the great players of that period, he actually did exceptionally well with his glaring limitations.
 

Cashman

Hall of Fame
I'd say given that he was the least naturally talented of the great players of that period, he actually did exceptionally well with his glaring limitations.
I think it is pretty unfair to say he had glaring limitations. When he was at the top, he looked pretty unstoppable. Even someone like Brad Gilbert (who was a genius at figuring out weaknesses in opponents) thought he was going to dominate the game for years.

The key weakness was his running forehand, which Marc Rosset discovered at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992. Prior to that people thought that Courier's backhand was his weakness, so they would hit to it consistently. That was fine by Courier as his backhand was plenty stable enough to keep him in a rally until he got a ball he could run around and hit his forehand I/O. Rosset realised that if you went to Courier's forehand selectively, when he had to hit it on the move, you would generally get an attackable shot with the backhand court wide open.

Once Rosset won that match at the Olympics, other people took notice and he started losing more.
 

sportsfan1

Hall of Fame
Didn't he beat Agassi at the latter's peak though, one of the top notch players? Perhaps Edberg/Becker too. It just seems like the norm of "too old for tennis at 30" was accepted too readily and maybe there wasn't as much of a willingness to push through a longer down turns. Connors for some timely advice and inspiration on keeping on going, but different priorities for different people of course.
 

BGod

Legend
He took advantage of a power vacuum at the top of the sport in the early 90's with his powerful and unusual inside-out forehand, bagging his 4 slams over a two year period after which the other elite players on the rise figured out his one-dimensional game. As you pointed out, his losses in slams in '93 when he was the dominant player going into the season rattled him mentally. He was never able to make adjustments to his game to reclaim lost ground. He was a proto-Roddick. I'd say given that he was the least naturally talented of the great players of that period, he actually did exceptionally well with his glaring limitations.
The volume just shoots that notion down. He was mentally choking against the top players in those later years. It's not like he was unable to beat them skill-wise. Beyond the Slams, 94 Miami he comes up against Pete in the semis and flat out plays not to lose, Sampras wasn't this master of clutch overpowering Courier, Jim just couldn't swallow the opportunities. He also suffered an injury at the 94 Canadian Open that lingered.
I think it is pretty unfair to say he had glaring limitations. When he was at the top, he looked pretty unstoppable. Even someone like Brad Gilbert (who was a genius at figuring out weaknesses in opponents) thought he was going to dominate the game for years.

The key weakness was his running forehand, which Marc Rosset discovered at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992. Prior to that people thought that Courier's backhand was his weakness, so they would hit to it consistently. That was fine by Courier as his backhand was plenty stable enough to keep him in a rally until he got a ball he could run around and hit his forehand I/O. Rosset realised that if you went to Courier's forehand selectively, when he had to hit it on the move, you would generally get an attackable shot with the backhand court wide open.

Once Rosset won that match at the Olympics, other people took notice and he started losing more.
It's largely a myth.

Courier just lost the mental edge. Two matches he had going away against Sampras and Agassi, choked horrendously in both. He was mentally shot after 93-94.
 
  • Like
Reactions: NAS

onefineday

Rookie
I don't think it was considered so early then. There have been several players like Courier who had a few years at the very top when young- he was 20, 21 I think when he hit No.1- and then they slowly decline and retire. I think the most recent example of this is Hewitt.
I think Courier really started to decline in 1995. He was reading books at changeovers at the end. Back then there was also a slew of younger champs coming up after you plus the big outliers of his generation- Sampras and Agassi- who were that rare brand of players with a long shelf life who could regenerate. Courier was not able to regenerate and so the end of his career was slam QFs at best, early exits. That's not that much fun when you were No.1 and a slam champ. Plus, back then, if you were a tennis player, the money was not as good. But good enough for Courier to be able to have a very nice nest egg, probably retire and live as a landlord, investor.
 

accidental

Hall of Fame
All 3 of those things in the poll.

When he was winning slams he was considered a ‘big hitter’ from the baseline. Towards the end of his career he was struggling to keep up with players like Safin, Moya, Kafelnikov, Guga etc. He had to work very hard to remain competitive as much as he did
 

ChrisG

Professional
When I was a kid in the late 80's my dad used to say about any rising young player :"if he doesn't win a major before he turns 20, then he'll never be a great player".
Prime tennis was so early in those days, any player past his 25 was considered a failure if he hadn't win something significant by that time.
Tennis player would be burn out mentally and or physically by the time they reach 30.
Fitness and overall professionalism has vastly improved in the past 20y
 

JasonZ

Professional
Courier overtrained. He worked so hard on fitness for so long his tennis actually suffered. Sure, he never got tired physically, but the training fried his brains, and his right arm was dead afterwards. He could have benefited from some Agassi-style bingeing on junk food.
couriers brain works pretty well, he is much much more intelligent and eloquent than sampras or federer.
 

tkramer15

Rookie
Everyone has hit on all of the main points. I'd like to add that the tour became considerably deeper right around the time that Courier's slide became most pronounced. The "Spanish Armada" was in full flight by 1996. Players like Kafelnikov and Rios had become major threats.

Check out Courier's record against the following successful players who emerged in the mid-'90s:

Kafelnikov: 1-5 (Courier won their first meeting in '94 before losing five in a row)
Rafter: 0-3
Rios: 0-3
Corretja: 0-4
A. Costa: 2-2 (Costa won their biggest meeting at the '95 French)
Berasategui: 0-2
Haas: 0-2
Philippoussis: 2-4
Johansson: 1-3

I cherrypicked the worst ones, and Courier lost to many players inferior to these guys (while also doing ok against Moya, Henman and Rusedski among others), but I believe this is illustrative of a shift in the game around that period. It didn't help that Courier lost five consecutive big matches to Sampras in 1995-96, three in slams and two in Masters events. That had to be demoralizing.

Chang and Muster, albeit different players and situations than Courier, each began to noticeably decline in late 1997 or 1998. Muster, who dominated the clay scene and guys like Rios, Moya, Mantilla, Berasategui, etc. suddenly lost to each of them on clay in '98 (after a disastrous '97 clay season). Muster met Kuerten three times between '97 and '99 and lost all three. The first two were close, but it was clear that Muster could not overcome the Brazilian's talents.
 

WYK

Hall of Fame
he probably got slower too and couldnt run around his backhand as much
He had one of the most powerful backhands in tennis history.

30 was old then. Nowadays 30 is like 22.
It's no secret sports medicine and science have advanced. What is sort of a secret is sports medicine science has advanced. They have non steroid drugs nowadays that are nearly as effective as steroids. Many of them do not leave metabolites that are illegal. As someone who has arthritis, I have been on a few of them as well as steroids. I couldn't tell the difference aside from my favourite one also being a great pain killer. I can either play twice as much tennis, or I can heal twice as fast on them. I imagine athletes likely have even better options.
 
He didn't retire early. His peak basically ended mid 93, and his prime probably ended mid 94. He had been on a slow, long decline with the occasional 1 step back forward but followed always by 2 steps back, for a long while. If anything I am surprised he carried on as long as he did.
 

ChrisG

Professional
Everyone has hit on all of the main points. I'd like to add that the tour became considerably deeper right around the time that Courier's slide became most pronounced. The "Spanish Armada" was in full flight by 1996. Players like Kafelnikov and Rios had become major threats.

Check out Courier's record against the following successful players who emerged in the mid-'90s:

Kafelnikov: 1-5 (Courier won their first meeting in '94 before losing five in a row)
Rafter: 0-3
Rios: 0-3
Corretja: 0-4
A. Costa: 2-2 (Costa won their biggest meeting at the '95 French)
Berasategui: 0-2
Haas: 0-2
Philippoussis: 2-4
Johansson: 1-3

I cherrypicked the worst ones, and Courier lost to many players inferior to these guys (while also doing ok against Moya, Henman and Rusedski among others), but I believe this is illustrative of a shift in the game around that period. It didn't help that Courier lost five consecutive big matches to Sampras in 1995-96, three in slams and two in Masters events. That had to be demoralizing.

Chang and Muster, albeit different players and situations than Courier, each began to noticeably decline in late 1997 or 1998. Muster, who dominated the clay scene and guys like Rios, Moya, Mantilla, Berasategui, etc. suddenly lost to each of them on clay in '98 (after a disastrous '97 clay season). Muster met Kuerten three times between '97 and '99 and lost all three. The first two were close, but it was clear that Muster could not overcome the Brazilian's talents.
Thanks for naming all those wonderful players. What a great era the 90’s were. As a Spaniard, I truly enjoyed the Spanish Armada that paved the way for Rafa.
that era was full of contenders who could win so it was really entertaining
 

terribleIVAN

Hall of Fame
Jim was limited technically but more than made up for it through fitness and hard work.

When younger and more talented players surfaced, it was only a question of time before he would be overrun.

A little bit like Borg against McEnroe, where Bjorn had to work 3 times as hard to win a point than Mac.
 
30 is only seen as young by today’s standards. 30 in Courier’s era was considered ANCIENT. Most players were on the downsides of their careers or retired already by age 30. Today, sports medicine and physical therapy techniques are much different, and players generally don’t come into the Tour as “teen phenoms” as they did in the 80s and 90s
 

CyBorg

Legend
Huh. Laver and Rosewall must have been privy to that "sports medicine" and "science" when they continued to dominate tennis into their mid-to-late 30s.

There's no great difference in the way players keep themselves fit and in shape today, with the possible exception of PEDs. In certain terms, what great scientific advancement is supposed to be responsible for supposedly improved player durability? Greater variety of organic foods?

My view is that the biggest change in the game has been the tour itself, which became standardized in 1990. Top players have a more stable, predictable and consistent experience on the tour than they did in the wild heyday of 1970s, 80s and, to a lesser extent, the 90s. They are playing fewer matches than ever and travel is easier and more convenient. They are also better protected from fanatics and paparazzi.

All the armchair scientists and amateur dieticians should get a new hobby.
 
Top