The Champions Cup is a slightly younger tennis version of the PGA's Champions Tour sprinkled with some showmanship.
Former four-time Grand Slam winner Jim Courier, who originated and oversees the series, will face Michael Chang on Thursday night at Chesapeake Arena in a one-set semifinal. John McEnroe and Ivan Lendl meet in the other semifinal. The winners meet in a one-set final.
“Johnny Mac is still noisy,” Courier said. “He hasn't changed a lick. His tennis is still great and so is his temper.”
Of the dozen players on the 2014 circuit, nine were ranked No. 1 or 2 in the world during their careers, players like Jimmy Connors, Pete Sampras, Andy Roddick and Andre Agassi.
The four players on the Oklahoma City stop combined for 228 career ATP titles, $67 million in career earnings and 20 majors titles.
“There are so many different personalities, the audience always has someone to cheer for,” Courier said. “If you're an extravert maybe Johnny Mac is your man. Michael's personality has really blossomed on this tour.”
Similar to a pro sports team, each player on the 12-city tour receives an annual salary. Standings are tabulated on a prorated basis based on a points system.
“All our egos are still big enough everyone wants to win,” Courier said. “For Andy Roddick and James Blake to join so quickly after they retired has been a pleasant surprise how this tour is gaining traction.”
Three of the four players participating in Oklahoma City were ranked No. 1 in the world. Michael Chang was ranked as high as No. 2.
Lendl, 53, is a Czechoslovakia native who currently coaches Andy Murray. Lendl won 19 majors singles finals, second all-time to Roger Federer.
“Wherever we've played it's usually very well received,” Lendl said. “I have played in Europe, Asia, Australia, places all over the United States, Canada. I enjoy going to places I've never been, which is why I'm looking forward to the one in Oklahoma City.”
A television analyst, Courier a decade ago founded InsideOut Sport & Entertainment, which runs the circuit. Courier also is the current United States Davis Cup captain.
“This is not the U.S. Open,” Courier said. “This isn't life or death like a lot of us thought it was when we were in our 20s. But we all still love to compete. The energy is why we do it. We all still really want to win, make some shots fans will remember.”
The Champions Cup features three one-set matches, an event that lasts around 2½ hours.
“The exit polling is everyone that leaves often is surprised at the level of tennis,” Courier said. “They love they can get up close to the players, who sign autographs and are accessible after the event is over.”
Lendl said one benefit to the tour is chatting with old rivals without the pressure of winning like when they were in their prime.
“It's always fun to see the guys,” Lendl said. “It's fun to interact with (fans) more. It's a lighter side of the players. Still, it is competition and you want to win.”
Oklahoma City will be the second stop on the tour, which begins Wednesday night in Kansas City. Next week, the circuit visits Birmingham and Indianapolis.
“Obviously you're going to have bells and whistles with music playing, dramatic entrances under the spotlight,” Courier said. “Even the (ATP) tour is starting to do some of that. It's a high-energy event.”