WASHINGTON, September 30, 2018 (by Michael Dickens)
Just hours after the International Tennis Federation announced on Thursday that the 2019 and 2020 Davis Cup finals would be held in Madrid, Spain, word spread across the United States that Jim Courier was stepping down as U.S. Davis Cup captain after eight years. Courier informed the U.S. Tennis Association as well as his players and staff of his decision during a dinner following the U.S.-Croatia Davis Cup semifinal tie held in Croatia two weeks ago, which Croatia won 3-2.
In an email to the Associated Press, Courier said that the decision to walk away from his captaincy “was his” and that he determined “at the end of 2017 that 2018 would be my final year as captain.” He worked under a one-year contract in both 2017 and 2018 after having two-year deals during his first six years as U.S. captain.
Courier, 48, who is a former World No. 1 and won four Grand Slam titles, was elected to the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2005. He has been a great ambassador for U.S. tennis and the sport globally, both as a Davis Cup captain and as a television analyst for a variety of broadcast networks, in the U.S., Great Britain and Australia, since retiring in 2000. His commentary for Tennis Channel in the U.S. as well as his on-court interviews for the Australian Open have always been spot on. He’s both a good interviewer and listener.
As captain of the U.S. Davis Cup team since October 2010, Courier was the 40th captain in U.S. history. He compiled a 10-8 win-loss record in World Group play, which included four shutout victories. He guided the U.S. to two World Group semifinal tie appearances, in 2012 and 2018, and reached the World Group quarterfinals six times. Under his guidance, the U.S. maintained its position in the World Group. As a Davis Cup player, Courier compiled a 17-10 overall record and was a member of two U.S. championship teams, in 1992 and 1995. The U.S. team was 13-1 in ties in which he played, and he clinched victory by winning a decisive fifth rubber three times.
The U.S. has won a record 32 Davis Cup titles but none since 2007.
So, why did Courier decide to step down now? In his email to the AP, Courier wrote, “The reason I made 2018 my final year was my view that eight years was the right amount of time for me to lead the team.”
He was quoted in a USTA press release as saying, “It’s been my honor and privilege to represent the USTA and USA as a player and captain. I look forward to cheering the team on as they pursue the cup in its new format next year and beyond.”
Under the new Davis Cup format approved last month by the ITF that takes effect in 2019, by reaching the World Group semifinals this year, the U.S. is automatically seeded into the Davis Cup finals as part of a group of 18 nations that will compete next November in Madrid. However, Courier noted in his email, “The format change did not factor into my thinking, as it was far from a certainty when I made the decision.”
Christopher Clarey, the veteran New York Times tennis columnist, said via Twitter on Thursday, “Know how competitive and committed a person Jim Courier is. Has to rankle that in eight years as U.S. Davis Cup captain, the U.S. did not reach a final. Whole bunch of factors. Stepping down now seems the right timing even if major Cup reform he supported will be a reality next year.”
Among the early names being floated as a replacement for Courier include former American great and U.S. Davis Cup player Andy Roddick and former U.S. Davis Cup player James Blake, who is now tournament director of the ATP Masters 1000 Miami Open and a Tennis Channel analyst. Either would follow in a path of recent former U.S. Davis Cup players who have been captain before Courier, including John McEnroe and Patrick McEnroe.
Here’s a thought: If USTA President Katrina Adams wants to be really bold and think outside the box, why not select Martina Navratilova? After all, as a professional, Navratilova, 61, was not only a fierce competitor, but also excelled at both singles and doubles, where she won 18 Grand Slam singles, 31 Grand Slam doubles and 10 Grand Slam mixed doubles titles. She was good on all surfaces, and throughout her storied Hall of Fame career, she showed time and time again how to win with a crowd rooting against her. Something to think about.