Courier Relaxed in Opening-Day Victory : Australian Open: Former champion is easy winner over Rikl of Czech Republic, 6-4, 6-0, 7-6 (7-2).

TIMES STAFF WRITER

It's traditional at the first event of the season for players on the tennis tour to make noises about "rededicating themselves to the game," raising the inevitable question of why and when their commitment to their profession had waned.

Jim Courier can pinpoint it. To the day. Indianapolis, May, 1994, second round. A frustrated Courier announced at a news conference after his loss that he was "mentally, physically and emotionally" tired and vowed not to pick up his rackets "until my heart tells me to pick them up again. I don't know if that's going to be one day, one week, one month, one year, 10 years."

The former top-ranked player's heart spoke to him three days later and Courier was promptly back on the circuit. Once dismissed as a burnout case, Courier is back at the Australian Open, an event he won in 1992 and '93. His comfort level on the National Tennis Center's Rebound Ace hardcourts is obvious: On the opening day of the tournament Monday, the ninth-seeded player easily beat David Rikl of the Czech Republic, 6-4, 6-0, 7-6 (7-2).

Later, Courier appeared relaxed and at peace while talking about his own particular demons: the twin handicaps of guilt and burnout. The 24-year-old Floridian has always based his game on a remarkable work ethic and baseline resolve. Courier had believed the dictum that says hard work will yield good results.

Courier's response to adversity was to attempt to work his way out of it. The effort took its toll. Wounded but wiser, Courier espouses a new philosophy that he says has allowed him to enjoy the sport.

"I think there have been a lot of times when I haven't been able to (enjoy himself)--I have overtrained or I haven't been able to take two or three days off without feeling guilty," he said. "I had about 7 1/2 weeks off in the off-season and I think I just came to grips with the fact that if I take three or four days off, I still walk out on the court and know what I'm doing. I haven't forgotten."

Most players in this tournament are refreshed after some time off and Courier is no different with his sunny disposition. What Courier will have to do to change is to carry his attitude through the long and trying season ahead.

"Historically, I play very well at the beginning of the year and then kind of slide down the hill in the second half of the season," he said.

"I think I have just beaten my head into the ground so much in the year trying to keep going and keep going that I tire myself out. I think I just have to go to the beach more often. I just need to enjoy the life I have. It's a good one. "

Australian Open Notes

Fourteen-year-old Martina Hingis of Switzerland easily dispatched Jolene Watanabe of the United States, 6-0, 7-6 (7-2). Hingis, who turned pro last summer to take advantage of eligibility rules that were about to change, said she was now fully comfortable playing with "the grown-ups," as she called her colleagues on the women's tour. She won the first set in 19 minutes, giving up only 11 points. . . . Fifth-seeded Michael Chang defeated Paul Kilderry of Australia, 6-2, 6-4, 5-7, 6-2. Chang, who seems to always find himself in the middle of long matches, spent 2 hours 36 minutes on the court on a warm day. . . . Top-seeded Pete Sampras had little trouble against Gianluca Pozzi, needing only 73 minutes to defeat the Italian, 6-3, 6-2, 6-0.

Seventh-seeded Michael Stich, who lost in the first round of the Australian Open last year, defeated Jeff Tarango of Manhattan Beach, 6-3, 6-1, 6-3. . . . Mary Pierce, seeded fourth among the women, started out with a double fault but her troubles ended there as she went on to a 6-1, 6-0 victory over Tina Krizan. . . . Jim Courier had gone 17 months without winning a title until he claimed the Australian Hardcourt Championship in Adelaide two weeks ago.

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