A pause proves to be productive for Jim Courier


DALLAS -- Jim Courier, known for his demanding physical work ethic, took a long promised and probably much-needed break from tennis at the end of 1994.

The result?

Courier came away from a seven-week break, during which he dropped his golf handicap from 13 to 12, by playing some of his best tennis in years last week. Courier won his first title since Aug. 22, 1993, on Sunday when he beat Arnaud Boetsch, 6-2, 7-5, in the final of the Australian Men's Hardcourt Championships.

For Courier, the world's top player for 58 weeks from 1992-93, the victory stopped a sharp decline in his performance. Courier pondered a rest after an early round loss at the U.S. Men's Hardcourt Championship, when he said he would put away his rackets for a while.

It was a short respite because Courier returned to the U.S. Open, where he lost to Andrea Gaudenzi in the second round.

It was the second time he lost in the second round of Grand Slam tournament in 1994. Guy Forget beat Courier in the second round of Wimbledon in June.

"There wasn't a time when I doubted I would win another tournament," Courier said. "I felt like I played real solid all week. I had seven weeks off before coming down here, and it was nice to be in one place. I haven't done this in a couple of years. I came here pretty fit and rested."

The victory moved Courier closer to the Top 10. Courier, who ended 1994 ranked 13th, jumped to 11th with the victory.

It also comes at a significant time in the year. Courier, who won the Australian Open in 1992 and 1993, goes into the Open next week with renewed confidence.

It should also give U.S. Davis Cup coach Tom Gullikson added confidence when he sends Courier into match play against France next month in St. Petersburg, Fla.

Aiming for the top spot

With Steffi Graf's withdrawal from the Australian Open, Arantxa Sanchez Vicario has a chance to join an exclusive group if she wins the first Grand Slam event of the year.

Sanchez Vicario would become No. 1 if she accumulates 655 points in the computer rankings. That would be 520 points for winning the tournament and at least 135 quality points. Players are awarded quality points based on the opponent rankings.

Only five players have been ranked No. 1 since the introduction of the computerized rankings in 1975: Tracy Austin, Chris Evert, Graf, Martina Navratilova and Monica Seles. Graf has been No. 1 since June 7, 1993.

Regardless, the Australian Open is guaranteed to produce a first-time winner. It is the first time since Barbara Jordan won the title in 1979 that the open has not had at least one former champion competing in the draw.

Laconte can't shoot bull

Henri Leconte and Maria Sara, a professional bullfighter, will be married on Jan. 20. Sara, who fights bulls while riding a horse, is popular in Leconte's native France.

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