In October, former world No. 1 and Davis Cup stalwart Jim Courier was named the 40th captain in U.S. Davis Cup history, succeeding Patrick McEnroe. As a player, Courier was a member of the U.S. Davis Cup team for seven years, and played a key role in the U.S. winning the Davis Cup in 1992 and 1995. In his career, Courier played 26 singles matches for the U.S., which is ninth all-time in U.S. Davis Cup history, and the U.S. was 13-1 when Courier was part of the team. Following his playing career, Courier served as U.S. Davis Cup coach under McEnroe for three years, from 2001 to 2003.
“Jim will continue to bring class and character, as well as an outstanding pedigree in Davis Cup competition, to the role of U.S. Davis Cup captain,” said USTA President Lucy Garvin in announcing Courier’s appointment. “And a new generation of U.S. Davis Cup players will have an opportunity to become better competitors under his leadership.”
The 40-year-old Courier will assume the captaincy as the United States begins its quest for a 33rd Davis Cup title in Chile in March. Prior to his debut, the new captain shared his thoughts on a range of topics surrounding his approach to the job, the players who figure to comprise the U.S. team, the challenges of Davis Cup competition and more.
USTA Magazine: Congratulations on being named captain. What was your reaction upon getting the call?
Courier: Thank you. It’s a great honor to be named captain, so obviously I was thrilled. I’m privileged to be able to step into the very worthy shoes of my predecessor, Patrick McEnroe, who did a terrific job for the team in his 10-year tenure and laid a great groundwork for the way the team works together and the camaraderie they’ve shown. That will be one of my main goals, to maintain that same energy that Patrick has created around the team.
Do you know what direction you’ll be taking when it comes to choosing players for that team in terms of the Davis Cup veterans vs. the younger guys?
Well, I think it needs to be pretty organic. I think there’ll be a natural integration between the generations. You do have to look at each tie and look at what your options are, but certainly having Andy Roddick commit to playing next year is a big bonus for the team. Andy is such a great leader and his Davis Cup record is obviously terrific.
Andy is definitely committed to Davis Cup for 2011?
He is. You know, Andy’s an “all-in” guy. When I was talking to him [prior to being named captain] I asked him if he was comfortable with me saying that he was committed [to the 2011 campaign] and he said, “I’m not very coy. I’m either in or I’m out—and I’m in. So say what you want to say.”
So going forward you see the team as a mix of old and new?
There will definitely be some integration. And I hope to have a long tenure, so I hope to be able to see the younger guys come through and be a big part of our team. But I wouldn’t say that I’m in any hurry to usher out the guys who have carried the team for so long. I want those guys to be key components because they certainly have earned that right.
Talk a little bit about how you define success as captain.
Well, our goal is to win, obviously, but I won’t define success necessarily just in terms of how many titles we win during my tenure, because there are things such as the draws and different elements of Davis Cup that you can’t control. To me, success is defined by getting the most out of our players and having them want to support Davis Cup and hopefully watching them become better players along the way through their involvement in it. That’s how I’m looking at it. I want to help our players become the best they can be.
You were obviously a very intense competitor, which served you particularly well in Davis Cup play. Is that intensity something you can impart upon your players?
I’m not looking at this as if our players need to act the way that I acted on court in order to be successful. These players have their own personalities and strengths and I want them to play to those. My role is not to change what these guys are doing, it’s to help them use their own strengths to become better players, and I think my approach to that will be much more subtle than overt. The important thing to me is that every one of these guys is dying to play Davis Cup. That’s a great thing for a captain to have, and their enthusiasm inspires me to want to do a great job.
What made you interested in the caption’s position?
I knew even in my years playing that if I were given the opportunity to be the Davis Cup captain that I would want to do it. It’s something that I’ve thought a lot about over the years. In an individual sport, Davis Cup is that rare time when you get to be on a team. For me, some of the most special moments in Davis Cup were the days preceding the matches when you spent time with your teammates training, eating, playing cards together, just bonding. Those are really special moments that we rarely experience in our sport. So that’s one of the big attractions for me; getting to have those experiences again with our current group of players and our incoming group of players.
What do you see as the most important leadership quality in this position?
I think it’s confidence. The team needs to know that you have confidence in them and that you believe in them. Motivation comes to people in different ways, and honestly, I don’t think you have to motivate the players who are playing Davis Cup for the U.S. You might just need to harness their energy so that they’re not overly excited.
This is going to be an interesting time for me as I get to better understand these players and how they operate. It’s going to be important for me to integrate with their coaches and get closer with them as well. But I’m pretty confident that I should have the respect of the players, because they know that I’ve been there. They know that I’ve walked in their shoes and I hope they’ll get the sense very quickly that it’s about them and not about me. This is a “team first” environment, and my role is to help them be the best they can be. I can’t hit a ball for them, but hopefully I can help them make choices on the court if they need my help.
Yours is a position that works very closely with USTA Player Development. Can you talk a bit about that relationship?
Absolutely. Patrick has built a great team there and I look forward to working with them. [USTA Director of Coaching] Jose Higueras is my long-time mentor, and [USTA Head of Men’s Tennis] Jay Berger and I go a long way back to junior tennis and have been on Davis Cup teams together. Jay will remain as the coach of our Davis Cup team so we will be working very closely together, and I plan to be as involved with those guys as I can without being intrusive.
I think it’s important to have some face time and some visibility with our younger players, so I plan to go to Carson, go to Boca, go to wherever our players are so I can spend time with them. It’s important that they are comfortable with me and that I’m comfortable with them, because wherever we play, there are going to be four guys sitting alongside me on a court, and they need to not be spooked or uncomfortable—they need to feel great about it. It’s my job to make sure that’s the case.
There has been great debate through the years about the Davis Cup format. What are your thoughts on the subject?
I think that the Davis Cup has some untapped potential. I feel like it should be as prominent as the Grand Slams when it takes place. I think if you put it together with Fed Cup and you had some organized nationalistic team competition that takes place in a centralized location for two weeks, it would be very powerful from a fan, media and television standpoint. And I think you can do that and still have the home and away aspect in qualifying for it, the way the World Cup has a qualification period. But that’s a little “pie in the sky.” I don’t work at the ITF and I don’t know what their day-to-day reality is, so it’s unfair for me to speculate as to how easy that would be. In any case, I don’t see it changing anytime soon.
The U.S. will begin its 2011 campaign in Chile in March. What are your thoughts on your debut tie as captain?
We’re certainly going to have a test down there—playing in South America, most likely on clay. We will not be underestimating the Chilean team by any means. I’ve played plenty of away Davis Cup ties when the United States was favored on paper and we had to go into serious battle. I expect the Chilean team to put up a strong fight. We’re going to have to bring our very best players and our very best tennis to win that tie.