After winning the junior doubles in 1987, Jim Courier quickly felt at home at Roland-Garros. Reaching the Round of 16 in his first two appearances, the American stepped things up a notch in 1991 but, in the third round, Sweden’s Magnus Larsson put a spanner in the works with a 2-1 lead and double break point in the fourth set…
RG Legends: Jim Courier tells us about his win in 1991
Crowned champion in 1991 after defeating his friend Andre Agassi, Jim Courier looks back on this final, one of the high points of his career.
Shaken into action by a baby
“And then a baby started crying in the stands. I stopped and said to the baby, ‘I know exactly how you feel!’ It made that very tense moment a bit more relaxed for me. And I managed to save the game, turn the match around and win in five sets.” After dazzling wins against Stefan Edberg and Michael Stich in the quarters and semifinals, Courier came up against Andre Agassi in the final.
From the Bollettieri academy to the Roland-Garros final
Having been roommates at the Bollettieri academy as teenagers, the two young Americans knew each other well. This was the seventh time they had played each other on the tour, and the third time in three years at Roland-Garros. Trailing 2-4 in their head-to-head, Courier had lost to the “Kid from Vegas” at the Porte d’Auteuil one year earlier, but he knew exactly what weapons to use to topple the World No.4.
He had already beaten Agassi in Paris in 1989 and a few months earlier in the 1991 season at Indian Wells, their most recent duel before the Roland-Garros final. “We were pretty equal on the baseline. He had a stronger backhand than me and I had a better forehand. It was a real power struggle. I thought I could dominate him on my serve, I thought I could get more free points than him. But that’s not the way it went at the beginning…”
Despite being in good spirits before he stepped out on court, Courier struggled to get into the swing of his first Grand Slam final. On the other side of the net, Agassi – who was more experienced, having already notched up two final appearances – did not waste any time clinching the first set 6-3. “I was very nervous. I couldn’t fire my shots properly so I was playing short and Andre made me pay!”
Rain delay and…Eureka!
“I couldn’t do anything about it; the match was just passing me by…then it started raining. During the delay, I was able to chat with my coach, José Higueras, who advised me to move further back when we got out on court and play with more topspin.”
This tactic worked and the match balanced out. Having drawn level, Courier dropped the third set 6-2 but pushed Agassi to a fifth set after pocketing the fourth 6-1.
The men matched each other shot for shot. After a rally of breaks, Courier once again took the lead and served for the match at 5-4. “It was tricky. I tried to relax, to concentrate on my first serves and not make any errors. I wanted him to have to work for the points. I served well and I sensed he was nervous. When I got a match point, it was one of those moments you dream about, but I tried not to think about what was at stake, just, ‘Toss the ball, hit it in the middle and play the next shot.’ But there wasn’t a next shot because I played an ace!” Knocked for six by this victory (3-6 6-4 2-6 6-1 6-4), the man from Sanford quickly understood that his whole life was about to change.
“The only comparison that I can give to people who haven’t ever had the experience is that it’s a bit like watching your child being born! It’s indescribable. There’s this adrenaline that floods your body and you realise that your life will never be the same again!”