Boise State men's tennis coach Greg Patton has known U.S. Davis Cup captain Jim Courier since the latter was a teenager with big dreams and the will to reach them.
At a Junior Davis Cup team meeting, Courier answered the question, "Why do you play?" by saying, "I want to be No. 1."
"I'll never forget that," Patton said. "The other kids laughed at him."
Courier reached that goal at 21 - and won four Grand Slams (1992-93 Australian Opens, 1991-92 French Opens) - during a hall-of-fame career.
Since then, he has produced a documentary about junior tennis, "Unstrung"; co-founded a company that runs tennis events, including a senior circuit; become a broadcaster; and risen to the Davis Cup captaincy.
"He's a doer," Patton said. "And whatever he does turns to gold. So I think he's the perfect Davis Cup captain."
Courier will lead a team of four American stars against Serbia on April 5-7 at Taco Bell Arena in the Davis Cup quarterfinals. He's in his third year as captain and his team has won three of its past four ties, including a 2-1 road record last year.
As a player, Courier helped the U.S. win the Davis Cup in 1992 and 1995.
"I certainly appreciated the time spent on the court with my captains - I played for two captains, Tom Gorman and Tom Gullikson - what they were able to do for me in those moments of extreme stress," Courier said. "I thought this would be a really interesting and exciting way for me to be involved and stay involved with the sport of tennis, and hopefully have an impact on the players."
The captain selects the four players for the Davis Cup team, works with those players to determine the desired playing conditions and coaches the team through practices and matches for about a week at the Davis Cup site. Players' personal coaches are invited to attend, but usually don't, Courier said.
The team also has a staff coach, Jay Berger. Most noticeably, the captain is allowed to sit courtside during matches and provide real-time coaching - a luxury not afforded at a tour event.
"You feel very exposed on the tennis court, especially when you're playing for your nation," Courier said. "There's a lot of expectation and pressure. Having someone else to share those moments with can really help. It's a balancing act - you have to figure out what works for each player and put yourself in their shoes. It's a real relationship-based job."
It's a job that suits Courier, Patton said, because unlike many raised in the tennis world, he embraced the team structure at a young age.
As a 16-year-old, Courier was left off a U.S. junior team because the coaches wanted to give other players a chance. Courier traveled to an event in Toronto anyway, and served as a practice partner and de facto assistant coach, Patton said.
"I really like getting to spend time with the guys and getting to know them and, hopefully, helping them in some small way become better tennis players," Courier said.
He's under contract through 2014 but would like to remain the captain even longer. Patrick McEnroe served for a record 10 years before Courier's debut in 2011.
"I'm committed for as long as the players will have me," said Courier, who is 42, lives in New York and still plays in senior events. "The captain of the U.S. team serves at the pleasure of the team as much as anyone else. I'd love to do it for a long time."
Courier's personality seems to complement those of his team members. Patton compared the players to easy-going dogs like Great Danes and golden retrievers.
"Jim is a pit bull, there's no doubt," Patton said.
Courier has talked to singles players Sam Querrey and John Isner about playing with more attitude. They might need some fire next week, to rev up the home crowd and find a way to beat a strong Serbian team.
"I'd like our guys to be more street fighters on our team," Courier said. "I like them to walk around with their chests out. Sam and John can absolutely bulldoze almost any player on tour if they're playing well. It's hard for me to understand when you don't show your power."
This is the third straight tie with the same four American players, so by the time the action begins Courier will have spent three solid weeks with these guys since September.
That's probably enough time to leave an imprint - but there are limits to his influence.
"I'm a passenger," Courier said. "I'm riding shotgun - best seat in the house, no doubt about it. But ultimately, they are the ones who will stand and deliver for us."
Chadd Cripe: 377-6398, Twitter: @IDS_BroncoBeat