Each week, Benjamin Law asks public figures to discuss the subjects we're told to keep private by getting them to roll a die. The numbers they land on are the topics they're given.
This week he talks to Jim Courier. The tennis commentator, 48, was the world No. 1 men's tennis player during 1992 and 1993. A four-time majors champion, he holds the record of being the youngest man to reach the singles finals of all four majors, at age 22.
You left the ATP Tour in 2000 after being ranked No. 1 for 58 weeks during 1992 and 1993. To what extent is retiring like a death?
For some of my peers, it did feel like that, but not for me. It felt like a new beginning. I'd put aside many things – going skiing, seeing bands I liked, picking up a basketball – that weren't advisable for a tennis pro. Now there was an opportunity for me to explore.
You were quite aware of what you had sacrificed to achieve what you had?
And I was quite happy to sacrifice. But I was in my 30s by then and had a lot of open road.
You didn't mourn anything at all about that chapter of your life closing?
So what's the difference between you and other athletes who do have that period of mourning?
Possibly curiosity. I'm interested in other things. As tennis people, we have opportunities to travel the world, so I never thought I was just going back to the life I lived before I left home. For some people, that's all they ever want. They don't like being on the road; they just want to be home. For me, curiosity led me to more happiness.
Elite athletes are often seen as being close to immortal. When was the last time you felt mortal?
Oh my god. During the photo shoot for this interview!
Really? You don't like being photographed?
I'm used to being photographed with friends or my kids. But when you're in an unusual environment where everyone else around you is a professional at their job and you're the amateur, it's a little awkward.
What about medical scares?
I've been quite lucky. I've had my appendix out.
You really are doing well, then. Have you decided what an ideal way of dying would be?
Some people have said getting hit by a bus.
That does not sound appealing.
Painless would be ideal. We're all deteriorating as we go – that's nature – but I hope to be physically capable for a long time, and mentally capable even past that, to enjoy my grandkids [Courier is married, and has two young sons], if we have those.
Is anyone banned from your funeral?
[Laughs.] No. Everyone is welcome. I've been pretty good at not creating enemies.
Do you consider yourself rich?
Absolutely. I have a healthy family, I'm loved by a lot of people and get to love a lot of people. And I've been overpaid for years.
At what point did you realise you were wealthy and, as you said, overpaid?
The second I knew I didn't have to go into an office unless I wanted to is when I knew I'd been overpaid. Money is not a solution, but it offers more options.
Define "overpaid". I imagine other people in your position would say, "I work very hard and what I'm paid is commensurate with what I do."
It's simple: I would have done it for a lot less.
Your prize money from playing was $US14 million. How do you manage that sort of cash responsibly?
I'd read a lot of horror stories about people who had a lot of opportunities, didn't take care of their money and ended up having regrets. My family are conservative financially, and that's certainly been ingrained in me. So from a young age, I had experts to help me, because I'm not a financial manager; I'm a tennis player. So I live within my means.
Did you know how you were going to make money after retiring?
I was young when I retired [aged 29], and effectively retiring from one career and starting another. I ended up starting a few: a TV commentary career, which I've been lucky enough to do for 18 years; playing on a Champions Tour in Europe, then co-founding my own Champions Tour in the US. I also became the US Davis Cup captain and got involved with coaching.
What was your last big purchase?
New bathrooms. Boring, isn't it?
When you were No. 1, how intense was your training?
What would an extreme week look like?
A typical off-season training week would consist of four hours of tennis for five days, and two hours of tennis on the sixth day. Monday, Wednesday, Friday, there would be an hour of weights. Full-body. There'd also be running on those days; typically 800-, 1600- and 400-metre repetitions to try to build endurance.
That's what some would consider torture. Was it?
No, because it had a purpose. It was not fun in the moment. But it was one of those scenarios where, after you're done, there's a great deal of satisfaction.
Do you look at old photos of yourself at your peak and wish you looked like that now?
No. I say, "Where was the stylist?" The fashion choices were terrible. Haircuts were awful.
The short shorts were fun, though.
Yeah, then Pete Sampras changed the game – he went with boardshorts and everyone followed.
What do you get to do now physically that you didn't get to do when you were a pro tennis player?
Have a great glass of red wine with a steak.
Writer, author of The Family Law and Gaysia.
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