Courier still pushing his tennis plan
TAMPA - During his professional life, Dade City's Jim Courier circled the globe multiple times, producing a career that led to four Grand Slam tournament singles championships, the world's No. 1 ranking and a place in the International Tennis Hall of Fame. Even now, as a tennis entrepreneur and broadcaster based in New York, he keeps a dizzying pace, having already visited Australia, Russia, Brazil and a dozen states in 2010. But the same thing keeps bringing him home - a worthy cause. Courier is hosting Monday night's Tampa Tennis Classic at the St. Pete Times Forum, an exhibition event that has attracted notable American men's players Andy Roddick and James Blake, along with top 15-ranked women's standouts Victoria Azarenka (No. 6) and Vera Zvonarena (No. 14), plus doubles player Rennae Stubbs.All proceeds benefit Raymond James Courier's Kids, an inner-city youth tennis initiative that supports the First Serve tennis program at St. Petersburg's Bartlett Park. Courier instituted the program eight years ago. The program has four components - tennis instruction, computer classes, academics and mentoring. "We started with kids who were pretty young and we just had our first one to earn a college scholarship," Courier said. "But I don't want that (earning a scholarship) to necessarily be our baseline for success. "The success of the program is how these kids grow up and turn out as adults. The idea is to build productive citizens. As a byproduct, if we get some good tennis players out of it, that's great, too. We want to offer them an opportunity." Courier once got an opportunity - and made the most of it. A product of Bradenton's Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy, Courier won 23 professional singles titles and earned more than $14 million in career prize money. In 2004, Courier and Jon Venison, an old tennis buddy from the Bollettieri training days, founded InsideOut Sport and Entertainment, a firm that owns and operates the Outback Champions Series, along with assorted exhibition events. Overall, Courier said he "has a great life." His Greenwich Village apartment is three blocks from the office. He enjoys the arts, the restaurants and the rhythm of city life. He will be 40 on Aug. 17. "It doesn't mean a ton to me right now, but maybe it will when I get up to it," Courier said. "I'm not overly reflective about that line in the sand. I'm hoping to get there. It's a good place to be. "I'm pleasantly surprised with how I feel. Given the mileage I put my body through - like a car, it's not necessarily about the years, but the mileage - I feel like my body has held up pretty well. That's a lot of road work, court work, starting and stopping. It's not what your body was built for. But I came out of it OK. I'm as excited and engaged in life as I ever have been."