The Continental jet that carried Jim Courier on the final leg of his trip home from Paris touched down at Tampa International Airport just after 1 p.m. Tuesday, but Courier already had his feet firmly planted on the ground. A throng of friends, family members, reporters and Dade City neighbors greeted him at the airport gate. There were balloons, signs, banners and plenty of cameras clicking. Courier, looking as calm as he did in rallying to beat Andre Agassi for the French Open title two days earlier, accepted the adulation, offering simply his boyish smile, countless handshakes and a stream of softly spoken words of thanks in return.
"It's pretty nice. It's something you work a long time for and you finally get it. I'm just trying to appreciate everything as it comes right now," Courier said as a trail of well-wishers followed him out of the airport. "You think that maybe it could happen to you, but really I never thought of it happening to me. You know, you think that it might, but I was never sure. The only thing I can do now is just be myself."
When Courier got home to Dade City, there was more. Waiting at his parents' home were flowers, balloons, banners, plus a cake complete with a tiny baseball cap like the one he wore during the tournament.
And in September, sometime after the U.S. Open, the city plans to honor Courier with an elaborate celebration, probably downtown, according to school board member Jean Larkin.
Courier ought to be used to it by then. It has been, Courier said, one big continuous celebration since the five-set final in Paris. After the match, Courier had a series of interview and photograph sessions with the international media. Then he and his coach, Jose Higueras, his agent, Gavin Forbes of International Management Group, and several other corporate tennis types went to a swank, private Paris club for an "unbelievable dinner."
Courier, who'll tell you he's no Patrick Swayze, even got up and danced. He said he got back to his hotel room around 5 a.m.
"Hey, I'll tell you what, when you win the (French Open), suddenly the way you dance looks pretty good," joked Courier, who was dressed casually in a Florida Gators baseball cap, blue jeans and a United States Davis Cup T-shirt. "Everybody says, "Geez, that guy is a good dancer.' "
The next day was filled with more interviews and photo sessions, including appearances on CBS's Good Morning America and NBC's Today show. Then Tuesday, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger happened to be on the same Paris-to-New York flight and he also offered his congratulations.
Now that Courier is home, he said he plans to sleep a lot because "I haven't slept in the last six days." There'll be plenty of rounds of golf played, several hours of lounging on the sofa strumming his guitar, and many nights spent in front of the television watching baseball and ESPN. "I'm going to watch so much ESPN that I'm going to tape every SportsCenter and rewatch it and rewatch it," he quipped.
And at some point, he said he'll stop by one of his favorite eating places, George & Gladys' Bar-B-Que in Dade City.
Pro tennis, which has made him the tour's leading money winner this year with nearly $900,000, will have to wait. Courier said he'll work out a few times at Saddlebrook Resort _ he has a condo there _ this week, but "I'm just going to go out and hit for as long as I can mentally stay with it and work hard. Then when my mind starts to go, there's really no reason to waste time on the court."
Wimbledon is up next, beginning June 24. Courier said he'll leave for England probably early next week. It's probably the farthest thing from his mind right now, but when he steps on those Wimbledon lawns he said he won't still be reminiscing about Parisian clay.
"Jose and I sat down (Monday) and talked for about an hour, which was very constructive because it's easy to get carried away with what's going on here," Courier said, turning serious for a minute. "He's just keeping things in perspective for me. That's of the utmost importance, to not get out of focus, to keep pushing myself to become a better tennis player. If I want to savor this victory, now is the time to do it for the next few days. Because when I turn my attention to Wimbledon, I'm going to have to be ready."