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RECOGNITION Courier leads class into Hall of Fame



Published: Sun, July 10, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Yannick Noah, Jana Novotna and Butch Buchholz also were inducted.

NEWPORT, R.I. (AP) -- Jim Courier was a typical 2-year-old, tossing a baseball wildly around the house while imitating his favorite major leaguer.

Within a few years, Courier went from throwing a ball to hitting one with a tennis racket.

Four Grand Slam titles and two Davis Cup championships later, Courier was inducted into the Tennis Hall of Fame on Saturday along with Yannick Noah, Jana Novotna and Butch Buchholz.

"My initial dream was to be a baseball player," said the 34-year-old Courier, who grew up in Sanford, Fla., but now lives in New York City. "I remember throwing a baseball at 2 years old in the house. My dreams of playing tennis just kept changing. It's been a remarkable road."

Early start

Courier, a two-time winner of both the Australian and French Opens, started playing tennis in juniors at the age of 7. He was a member of six Davis Cup teams, helping the U.S. capture the prize in 1992 and '95.

From following and rooting for baseball teams, he turned his attention to one of tennis' greats.

"Pete Rose was the player I was most interested in," he recalled. "The Cincinnati Reds and the Big Red Machine was in full flight. In tennis, my favorite player was Bjorn Borg because he was so dominant -- everybody loves a winner."

In his mind, one match altered his tennis future.

"There was one life-changing match for me," he said. "That was winning the French Open in 1991. Winning that match certainly put me on a path to here."

He finished as the world's top-ranked player in 1992.

Positive experience

Novotna, 36, of the Czech Republic, recalled what moment turned her career around. It wasn't winning, but losing a Wimbledon final to Steffi Graf in 1993.

"I look at it as a positive experience," she said.

Novotna captured the Wimbledon title in 1998, but is most remembered for winning 12 doubles Slams, which include four Wimbledon, three U.S. Opens, three French, and two Australian.

In contrast to Novotna and Courier's conservative appearance on the court, Noah was a flashy player, known for flowing dreadlocks. In 1983, he became the first Frenchman in 37 years to win the French Open.

But, like Noah, Courier had his moments of unique expression when he jumped into the Yarra River after winning the Australian Opens in 1992 and '93. He didn't plan anything usual for his induction.

"The 18th-most polluted river in the world," Courier said with a smile. "I took the plunge with my coach Brad Stine. I didn't have anything planned today. I think Yannick is the unpredictable one."

"I loved playing tennis. It was a beautiful game. It was therapy for me," said the 45-year-old Noah, who sang in Live 8 in Paris last Saturday. "Jim Courier, who is here today, used to kick my butt."

Buchholz, 64, was elected in the contributor category. He was the commissioner of World Team tennis from 1976-78 and Executive Director of the ATP from 1981-82.

Florida governor Jeb Bush was scheduled to present Buchholz, but stayed home due to Hurricane Dennis.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.




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