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‘A miscarriage of justice’: Jim Courier is standing by Novak Djokovic

Is it weird for him to watch actors play tennis on screen?

“It’s not an easy sport to fake if you haven’t been trained,” he says, laughing. “I imagine it would be like trying to have a tennis player be in a movie about a ballet star. But I quite enjoyed the movie about Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs [Battle of the Sexes], with Emma Stone and Steve Carell. I thought that one was quite good. And, of course, The Royal Tenenbaums is just incredible.”

It goes without saying this year’s Open will be different – about 1000 international players, support staff and officials have been in hotel quarantine, crowd numbers have been capped at 390,000 over the tournament’s two weeks, about half the average attendance, and physical distancing will be implemented in the stands.

For those watching at home, it will appear business as usual except Courier and his fellow commentators – Lleyton Hewitt, Todd Woodbridge and Chris Evert – will be watching the matches from high up in the skybox and not in their usual position in the bunker, which does not allow for social distancing.

Will it be difficult to commentate on the game from so far away?

“It’s not as good there, there’s no question about it,” he says. “That bunker location is the best spot to commentate tennis in the world. Because you’re right in there with the players, you can see the arc of the ball, you can almost play the points with the player that’s on your side of the net. And you can see their facial expressions after the point, too. So it’s much more instructive. But the skybox is a very common location for tennis commentary. So it won’t be as good for me personally, but it’ll be fun.”

That the Australian Open is even going ahead has been a cause of consternation for some, with early fears a hotel quarantine leak could turn into another superspreader event not unlike the one Melbourne faced in July last year.

Jim Courier chats with Lleyton Hewitt on court at the 2005 Australian Open. Courier and Hewitt will share the commentary box again at this year’s Open.

Jim Courier chats with Lleyton Hewitt on court at the 2005 Australian Open. Courier and Hewitt will share the commentary box again at this year’s Open.Credit:Vince Caligiuri

Courier says as a US citizen he is not entitled to have a view on whether the tournament should have proceeded – last year’s Wimbledon was cancelled, while both the US and French Opens went ahead without crowds – but is “in awe of what the citizens and the government have been able to achieve down here”.

“My government is disturbingly close to approaching 500,000 deaths right now,” he says. “It’s just a shock. So for me, it’s just gratitude that Australia has been so successful and that Tennis Australia has an opportunity to be a part of that success story.”

He says the backlash against world No.1 Novak Djokovic over his reported requests players in hard quarantine should have been moved to “private houses with tennis courts” was misguided. Courier goes so far as to call it a “miscarriage of justice”.

“People need to keep this in perspective,” he says. “What’s really important to remember is that Novak didn’t need any of the things that he was suggesting. He was the one who had a balcony, he had access to the court for five hours a day to do his training and his off-court training.

“What he was asking for was help for the people that are going to try and beat him at the Australian Open. That’s really important to note: he was helping the people that he’s going to compete against.

“Because while some of the things he asked for are still pie in the sky – the house with the tennis court, all of those things, it’s so completely unrealistic – but it was still done with the intention to help his competitors and I think that’s been lost in the shuffle.”

As for the players who were stuck inside, does Courier believe they will be disadvantaged when the Open begins on February 8?

“The challenge [for those players] is just losing feel – with the tennis ball on the tennis racket. It certainly helps to be able to hit balls against mattresses and keep your hand on the racket, but you don’t get to judge the distance of your shot in the same way.”

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And, because no tennis interview would be complete without it: how does Courier rate the chances of Australia’s own enfant terrible turned golden boy Nick Kyrgios this year?

“He should be in a great frame, because he’s been home, he’s been around his friends and family, and hopefully he’s had a good block of training,” he says. “And we’ll figure that out once play gets under way because that’s when you know – the ocean recedes and you can see who’s been swimming with their clothes on or who’s been swimming naked.”

The Australian Open begins on February 8.

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