John McEnroe was loud and flamboyant. Screamed at umpires.
During Ivan Lendl's prime, one veteran tennis writer described him as dour with a metronome-stroke.
It was a perfect setup for a classic rivalry. Fans tuned in when the brash kid from New York City was matched against the stoic, power player from the Czech Republic.
The former rivals meet against Thursday night at Chesapeake Energy Arena in one semifinal of the Champions Cup. In the other semi, Michael Chang faces Jim Courier, founder of InsideOut Sport, the company that runs the PowerShares series, tennis' version of the PGA Champions Tour.
“Lendl still likes to poke at him and get him going,” Courier said. “Nothing really changes. We're all a half a step slower, but the tennis is still good.”
McEnroe and Lendl met 36 times on the ATP circuit. Only Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal have played more matches.
“It actually started in juniors,” Lendl said. “The first time was in Brazil in 1977.”
The following year they both turned pro. They constantly ran into each other, whether it was five U.S. Opens, Toronto, Dallas or the epic 1984 French Open final.
The rivalry was marked by streaks.
An elite indoor player who relied on a heavy topspin forehand, Lendl won all seven matches between 1981 and 1982. A serve-and-volley wizard, McEnroe won eight of the next nine.
The all-time series was tied until Lendl won the final six matches to finish with a 21-15 edge.
Both players finished with Hall of Fame careers. McEnroe won 77 career singles titles, including seven majors. Lendl won 94 ATP events, second most all time. Lendl won eight majors, highlighted by reaching the U.S. Open final a record eight consecutive years in the 1980s.
Besides the obvious age variable, the other difference on the Champions Cup tour is the format encourages players to interact with the crowd.
“I'll always be intense, but I'm pretty fortunate to be out there to show the sense of humor hopefully I'm a little better showing as a commentator compared to when I played,” McEnroe said. “It's not life or death like it used to be.”
There were some oddities in the series. McEnroe and Lendl went to five sets only twice. They met only once at Wimbledon.
McEnroe and Lendl kicked off the 12-city tour Wednesday night in Kansas City.
“I stopped playing for awhile because of my back,” Lendl said. “For a while, golf filled part of my life very well, obviously on a much lower level than my tennis. I still enjoy playing tennis. One good thing about this series is we do clinics together and meet-and-greets. We travel together.”
Nearly four decades since they first met as teenagers, McEnroe is three days shy of his 55th birthday. Lendl is 53.
“It's obviously much less competitive than when we played in the U.S. Open finals,” Lendl said. “It's fun to interact with people. It's a lighter side of the players. But it's still competitive. We both want to play well. It should be fun.”