Michael Dwyer / The Associated Press

John McEnroe, right, and Jim Courier are two of the headliners on the PowerShares Series circuit. The two former world No. 1s have played regularly in “champions” exhibitions.

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  • THE PARTICULARS

    • When: Tonight, 7 p.m.

    • Where: Sleep Train Arena

    • Who: John McEnroe vs. Jim Courier; Pete Sampras vs. James Blake

    • Tickets: www.PowerSharesSeries.com, www.TicketMaster.com, in person at Sleep Train Arena box office

    • Format: One-night tournament with two one-set semifinals followed by a one-set championship match

    PLAYERS AT A GLANCE

    • Pete Sampras: Won a then-record 14 major singles titles during his pro career, including seven Wimbledon titles and five U.S. Open championships. Achieved world No. 1 ranking in April 1993 and finished in the top 10 in 12 consecutive years.

    • James Blake: Won 10 singles titles and achieved a career-high ranking of No. 4 during a 14-year career that ended in 2013. Helped guide the U.S. team to a title in the 2007 Davis Cup – its first since 1995.

    • John McEnroe: Captured four U.S. Open singles titles and three Wimbledon titles, along with 10 major titles in men’s and mixed doubles. Reached No. 1 ranking in March 1980 and secured the last of his 78 career doubles titles in 2006 at age 47.

    • Jim Courier: Two-time singles champion at the French Open and Australian Open. Became the first American since McEnroe to hold No. 1 ranking in 1992. Became the youngest player to reach all four major singles finals at Wimbledon in 1993 at age 22.

Courier looks forward to facing McEnroe tonight at Sleep Train

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014 - 10:57 pm
Last Modified: Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014 - 11:46 pm

Jim Courier, all of 18 years old, hadn’t been on tour a full year when he found himself across the net from John McEnroe for the first time in the quarterfinals of an indoor tournament in Detroit in late 1988.

McEnroe, the lithe, fiery left-hander, was ranked 14th in the world, three years removed from his last standing as world No. 1. Courier was at the beginning of a career that would include four major titles and an ascent to the No. 1 ranking in 1992 – the first by a U.S. men’s player since McEnroe.

Now 43, Courier recalls a fair amount of publicity and energy surrounding that Friday night match, and McEnroe “came out fired up.” The veteran claimed a 6-2, 6-4 victory over the rookie and, Courier said, “intimidated the heck out of me.”

“John has an aura about him, a force field about him, and that’s still there today,” Courier said this week. “It’s unavoidable when you’re young and impressionable.”

These days neither can claim the former, while Courier shed any labels of the latter by beating McEnroe in their only other two meetings on tour. Tonight, they will meet again for a one-set match indoors on the PowerShares Series circuit, which visits Sleep Train Arenaat 7 p.m.

Sacramento is the eighth stop of the 12-city circuit, which features former ATP Tour stars competing in one-night, four-player tournaments. Pete Sampras will play James Blake in tonight’s other semifinal, with the winner facing Courier or McEnroe in a one-set championship match.

Courier and McEnroe have played regularly in these “champions” events, and Courier, speaking by phone from Salt Lake City, said that for him the years have not dulled the excitement of their head-to-head meetings.

“It was a thrill to play him (in 1988); it’s a thrill to play him now,” Courier said. “I love the fact he’s highly competitive and energetic and all the things he is. I love that we still want to beat each other to death.”

For Courier, who retired from the ATP Tour in 2000, the PowerShares Series now marks the bulk of his competitive play. He’s fresh off captaining the U.S. team in the Davis Cup – the Americans lost in the first round to Great Britain in San Diego earlier this month – and still travels throughout the year working as a TV analyst.

Courier said he plays five days a week – TV work at bigger tournaments provides plenty of potential hitting partners – and that his shot-making and selection aren’t far from their sharpness at his peak. What he battles most is his footwork.

“I’m not as quick on the court as I once was,” Courier said. “There’s no one at 43 who would be. Time waits for nobody.”

Still, Courier said he retains much of the power on the serve and forehand he rode to two French Open and two Australian Open titles in the early 1990s. By the age of 22, he had reached the singles final of all four majors and ended every year from 1991 to 1995 ranked in the top 10.

One thing he has noticed playing in champions events, both of himself and his opponents, is that the strengths and weaknesses do not change. McEnroe, for example, still “moves wonderfully well. His serve is an incredible weapon, so hard to read. And his anticipation is unparalleled as far as I’m concerned. He knows where the ball’s going to be and shows up in advance most of the time.”

Courier, meanwhile, may not move like the nascent teenager who lost to McEnroe – the seven-time singles and 10-time doubles champion in Grand Slams – in 1988. But, Courier said, “I think I can cover that up with power.”

“I’ll try and overpower him as much as I can (tonight),” Courier said, adding that, after more than 25 years, he isn’t exactly worried about tipping his hand. “There are no secrets between us as far as who’s going to do what.”


Call The Bee’s Matt Kawahara, (916) 321-1015.

Read more articles by Matt Kawahara



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