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French connection: Courier nears big time

Mind you, Jim Courier could take the rest of the year off and still have it be said he had a great season. All the guy has done in the first half of 1991 is win two tournaments, earn $442,229 in prize money (he didn't win that much all of last year), and bound into the top 10. But with Courier, what lies before him at this week's French Open and the upcoming Wimbledon is far too irresistible. Courier of Dade City is playing the best tennis of his life, and he's proven he can play well on the Parisian red clay and on the slicker English grass. He reached the French Open fourth round the past two years and Wimbledon's third round last year.

At the French this year, he's already through to the quarterfinals _ his best result ever. The way things look, only top seed Stefan Edberg and Michael Stich stand between Courier and the French final. It'll be Edberg in the quarterfinals and possibly Stich in the semifinals.

Understand that winning the Champions Cup and the Lipton International Players Championships is fine but _ be it fair or not _ careers are made almost solely in tennis' major-league ballparks. And Courier appears to be standing in the on-deck circle.

"If he's ever going to crack into the upper echelon, you know, with the top guys, he's going to have to do it now," said veteran coach Tommy Thompson of Saddlebrook, where Courier trains. "I think he's got a shot against Edberg, especially because it's a slower surface. If (Courier) starts off slow, he could have problems. But if he can get on top of him early, I think he's got a shot."

Courier hasn't been exactly blowing people off the court, however. In fact, he needed a five-setter to beat Magnus Larsson. And his trail of beaten opponents doesn't read anything like a Who's Who of tennis. Derrick Rostagno. Wayne Ferreira. Larsson. And Monday, Todd Martin.

So, in effect, the tournament begins now for Courier. He has beaten the game's big boys before _ John McEnroe at Japan, Andre Agassi and Guy Forget at Indian Wells. Doing it at the French, though, would bring Courier to yet another level.

But even if he doesn't break through at the French, Courier looks to have a better shot at Wimbledon, where the faster grass courts suit his power game. Either way, these are important times for Jim Courier.

No, not again: Although many people perhaps have forgotten the nagging shoulder problems that cut Andrea Jaeger's career short, Jaeger hasn't forgotten them. The former Saddlebrook resident who now lives in Aspen, Colo., recently underwent surgery on her shoulder for the sixth time. Jaeger, who turns 26 today, was in rehabilitation for nine months.

On the air: Butch Heffernan, who runs the Down Under Tennis Club in north Tampa, is hosting a radio show called Tennis Talk on WFNS 910-AM. The one-hour show airs Sunday mornings at 9. Heffernan guides his audience through a variety of tennis topics and takes questions and comments from live callers.

Speaking of Heffernan, his Memorial Day Pro Tennis Classic last month featured a battle of bay area brothers: Jimmy and Ricky Brown. Jimmy prevailed 6-4, 7-6 to earn $1,000. Ricky took home $500. Jill Brenner of Lakeland won the women's final.

Swinging senior: St. Petersburg resident Orrel DeFraties was mentioned in the April issue of World Tennis magazine because the 90-year-old DeFraties plays tennis twice daily while also holding down a job maintaining the clay tennis courts at an area residential community. DeFraties' picture appeared in the magazine's Around the World section with the headline "Ninetysomething." DeFraties stays active despite having his larynx removed several years ago as a result of a bout with throat cancer.

Moving on up: University of Georgia star Patricio Arnold, who is transferring to South Florida, finished second in the final Volvo Tennis collegiate rankings behind Miami's Conny Falk. USF sophomore Roy Weinberg was 81st. Also, USF's top female player, Kristi Bastian, finished the year at a career-high 80.