by Jim Courier
In this nice article, former world number one Jim Courier recalls his four set winning final at the Australian Open 1992 against Stefan Edberg.
It's 7am and I have been awake for an hour, but have yet to get out of bed. The men's final of the Australian Open is starting in about seven hours and I have already hit hundreds of winners in my mind's eye.
My ball toss is perfect, the backhand passing shot spotless and the forehand, my real weapon, is on fire. I would make time speed up so those shots were real instead of imagined, if I could.
I can't, so I do the next best thing - continue to visualise. My coach and I have a scheduled appointment with the Yarra post-victory and I desperately want to attend. It is 1992.
There will be millions of people around the world turning on their television sets to see Stefan Edberg and me go to battle for the title. Hundreds of journalists will record the result for their readers to peruse the next morning. More than 15,000 spectators will be at Melbourne Park to watch the match live. None of that means anything to me. There is only one person that is on my mind - my opponent. I am otherwise unaware.
Breakfast is at the top of the hotel where I am staying, and I finally rise for my daily ritual of cereal and newspaper. Stefan is already there with his wife, enjoying some orange juice. We cordially acknowledge each other and go about our business, each largely ignoring the other.
He has crushed me in the US Open men's final the previous September. I haven't forgotten. With that result in mind, there are two goals for the day: avoid embarrassment and extract revenge.
After strumming my guitar for a few hours to help time move along, I finally leave for the stadium about 11am to have a warm-up hit. My coach, Brad Stine, and I stroke the ball lightly for 30 minutes on centre court and then play a few points at the end to sharpen up and, most importantly, get the nerves out. I may be sharp, but the nerves won't go without a fight.
The locker room on the day of a final is frightfully quiet. After the bustle of the first week, when close to 200 players clog up the space, there are now only two left. Apart from the coaches and the medical staff, it is empty. It's almost sad in a way, as if the circus has left town. But I don't see it like that.
A quiet locker room signifies I am close to holding a trophy in the air. This is a big one. Both Stefan and I sit in front of our lockers, ones we had chosen before the start of the tournament. We have both showered, eaten and dressed, and now endure the toughest part of the day - waiting for Colin Stubs, the tournament director, to pick us up and take us to the court.
We have about an hour to burn. I am reading quietly while Stefan watches some TV and whispers to his coach, Tony Pickard, from time to time. Peripheral vision allows us to check each other's movements, probing for any signs of injury or nerves. We are both healthy and both good actors. No nerves are apparent, but you would need a big net to catch all of the butterflies in the room.
I already have one major title in my collection, the French Open from the previous year, where I defeated Andre Agassi in the final. This is old hat to Stefan. He has been in many big finals. We have not played since the US final, but I am confident and have been in good form en route to the final. Unfortunately, so has Stefan.
The match starts evenly and I manage to secure the first set with some solid returns. In the second, Stefan finds his range and quickly evens the score. The battle is on. I wrestle the third set away with more return winners and find myself one set from glory.
Trying to close out a major final is a difficult thing to do. This is the moment in time for a player where all of the sacrifice is paid off if you can finish properly, or devastation arises if you fall short. No matter how many times you succeed at it, the next time is still hard. I had done it once and now am on the brink again. I can feel my stomach churning.
I get up an early break in the fourth set and quickly run the lead to 5-2. Stefan will be serving after the changeover. I pretend to be calm. I am anything but. My focus on the changeover, as I try not to hyperventilate, is to make him play as much as possible in his service game so I will be more relaxed when I try to serve it out at 5-3. A break of serve for the title isn't in my mind at all.
I get to match point on Stefan's service game. Not sure what to think, I shut my brain off completely and rely on instinct. He hits a serve into my backhand and I step into it and hit a clean winner crosscourt. Euphoria arrives in an adrenaline rush.
These are the moments and, as luck would have it, they go by so quickly it is hard to take it all in. Between the handshakes and interviews, I don't remember much of what happens in the next 10 minutes.
There is one thing I do remember - receiving the trophy. As I raise it in deep satisfaction, I look over at Brad Stine, and only we know what will be next for us. A swim in the Yarra.
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