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Tennis star's folks watch from afar

The red clay tennis courts of Roland Garros Stadium in Paris are a half a world away from the quiet back street of this rural Pasco town where Jim and Linda Courier live. Roland Garros is the site of the French Open, where Jim and Linda's 20-year-old son Jimbo knocked off the world's No. 1 player, Stefan Edberg, in four sets Wednesday to advance to Friday's semifinals.

Jim, who just returned home from an eight-day business trip, watched the match on ESPN in a town that has only two public tennis courts. He caught bits and pieces of Jimbo's early round matches while he was on the road.

"I don't have time to take off and celebrate," said Jim, a sales and marketing vice president with Lykes Pasco Inc. "I've got work to do."

Linda watched from another rural locale _ Newland, N.C., where she is visiting her father at his summer home in the Smoky Mountains.

Jimbo's career is important to them, but they clearly have their own priorities. Even if Jimbo _ better known on the pro tennis tour as "Jim Courier of Dade City, Fla." _ reaches the final of the most important tournament in his life and one of the sport's four majors _ Jim and Linda will stay a half a world away.

"We will not go (to Paris) _ he's done well without us," Jim Sr. said. "If there was any chance we would be a distraction, we don't want to be any part of it. We want him to concentrate totally on tennis.

"Besides, watching him in person is too nerve-wracking. If I'm going to take a week off for a trip, I'd rather go the beach or the mountains."

Added Linda: "I don't want him worrying about parking passes, or whether we're having trouble getting in at the gate, or about having dinner with us after the match. We want that all off his shoulders so he can just play tennis."

Courier certainly has done that. The world's ninth-ranked player fought his way through the first four rounds of the French Open to earn his shot at Edberg in the quarterfinals. It was all Jim and Linda could do to watch the match on television, much less in person.

"I feel much better now," Linda said after the match. "Edberg looked awfully sharp this week, and I knew that Jim would need a little luck and Edberg would have to fall off a bit. But Jim deserves the breaks because he has earned them. He has worked as hard or harder than anyone on tour."

"I thought he had a 50-50 chance of winning when I sat down to watch this morning," Jim Sr. said. "Jim doesn't mind playing Edberg on clay. He always goes to the French thinking he can do well because he likes the surface. It is the tournament he has been aiming for."

The French is a time and place far removed from the days when Jim and Linda Courier would hit for hours with young Jimbo each evening after they got off work.

"We made some real sacrifices for about 10 years," Linda said. "Jimbo has not gotten where he is by accident. Do you think most 9-year-olds want to hit tennis balls every day? They would rather be off riding their bikes down the street. Jim needed guidance and our love and support. Children that age aren't in a position to make decisions on their own. "

Jimbo was 8 when he started playing competitively. He practiced with his parents at the home of neighbors Jimmy and Harriet Evans, who had one of the only courts in Dade City.

"Nobody plays tennis in Dade City," Jim Sr. said. "When he was young, a lot of kids from the big cities would beat him because they had better instruction. But I knew sooner or later he would come to the forefront because he had great athletic ability."

Courier, who in March won the prestigious Lipton Players International in Miami, has earned nearly $500,000 this year. He spent many of his latter junior days playing against the likes of Andre Agassi (another French Open semifinalist) at Nick Bollettieri's Tennis Academy in Bradenton, where his game flourished.

Despite his success, Courier, who now lives at Saddlebrook in Wesley Chapel, remains low key and has not let success go to his head, Jim Sr. said.

"He is the same old Jimbo people knew four or five years ago or seven or eight years ago," Jim Sr. said. "He still likes to come home to Dade City because it's quiet, and he is just another face. People who know him here appreciate the fact that he hasn't changed. He's just a good kid."

And if Jimbo gets past the semifinals and wins the French Open on Sunday, his dad might even take time off work to celebrate. But he won't venture too far from Dade City.

"Oh, sure. We'll do something, like go to Tampa and have a nice dinner. A few bottles of Dom Perignon will pour," Jim Sr. said.

"I don't think we could find any DP in Dade City."