Jim Courier once was the No. 1-ranked tennis player in the world. Even though the Champions Cup circuit isn't close to the pressure he faced playing at Wimbledon or the U.S. Open, Courier said he still gets nervous competing on the senior circuit.
At the Oklahoma City stop Thursday night at Chesapeake Energy Arena, Courier defeated John McEnroe 6-2 in the finals.
“It's all about wanting to perform at your highest level,” Courier said. “All of us suffer from anxiety about doing that. This is a test out here. This is still pass or fail. There are no A's, B's and C's. It's either pass or fail. I passed tonight so I'm happy.”
Oklahoma City was the second stop of a 12-city that features a dozen players. Courier failed his first test, falling to Michael Chang on Wednesday night in Kansas City. He came back Thursday night to beat Chang 6-2.
“I was nervous (Wednesday) night. I hadn't played a live match in a while,” Courier said. “Tonight, I was much better. I had a good serve and forehand which are the keys for me.”
Wearing neon yellow shoes, the white-haired McEnroe won the Kansas City event. He continued his momentum with a 6-4 win over Ivan Lendl in the first semifinal. McEnroe, who turns 55 next week, fought off five match points before Courier finally ended the match.
Courier is 11 years younger than McEnroe, but their senior series is now tied 8-8.
“It's a good win anytime you beat Johnny Mac,” Courier said. “He is so tough, especially on a low-bouncing board like the setup here. I felt great on my serves. The key was I was able to break him twice. But it wasn't easy.”
Each event on the PowerShares Series features four former legends. Pete Sampras, Andre Aggasi and Andy Roddick are featured in other cities.
After his semifinal win, McEnroe was asked over the public address system why he plays better following blow-ups with officials and umpires, albeit Thursday's confrontations were staged compared to his days on the ATP circuit.
“Richard Sherman did pretty well,” quipped McEnroe, referring to the Seattle Seahawk cornerback's tirade after the NFC title game. “Growing up in New York City, I thrived on chaos.”
Courier is founder of InsideOut, the company that runs the Champions Cup circuit. His claim to fame was he became the youngest player to reach all four major singles final when he won Wimbledon at age 22.
On the senior tennis circuit, every player receives a salary. Wins and losses don't impact the pocket book. Season-long standings are prorated based on the number of events they enter.
Courier said exit polls have revealed fans are surprised at the level of tennis. One advantage is players interact with crowds.
“It's a lot of fun,” McEnroe said. “But we're all still very competitive.”
Chang said players like the fact they can schedule specific events without committing to the entire series.
“It's obviously different than when you played on the main tour,” Chang said. “Back then, we were all competing for grand slam titles. We were in the prime of our careers. This is still very competitive. It's a lot of fun, continuing some of the great rivalries from the past.”