Former world tennis champ Jim Courier squared off many times against the greats during his career, including players like Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras and Michael Chang. But he seems to be as excited as any fan about watching some legendary rivalries back to life as part of his revamped Champions Series tour, which will kick off this fall.
The HSBC Tennis Cup will inaugurate the series on Sept. 22 at the Bank Atlantic Center in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. John McEnroe and Messrs. Sampras, Chang and Courier will compete in three matches that night. Those four champs and veteran stars Bjorn Borg, Mats Wilander and Mr. Agassi will then go on to compete in a whirlwind 12-city tournament competition over five weekends in September and October.
“We are thrilled to reunite seven legends who have won an astonishing 52 Grand Slam singles titles among them,” Jon Venison, a founding partner of the Champions Series and co-founder, with Mr. Courier, of Manhattan-based InsideOut Sports and Entertainment said in a statement.
Though the New York City metro area won’t be included in the tour this year, the series’ reach has expanded, Mr. Courier said. The partners scored veteran live entertainment impresario Larry Magid, who is producing all of the events.
“We’re reaching more cities than we’ve ever been able to play in before,” said Mr. Courier. The condensed schedule, with three matches a night played over the five weekends, “is really meant to be player- and fan-friendly.”
Scheduled venues include Boston, Phoenix, and Los Angeles. But Mr. Courier and his company also made a concerted effort to include a wealth of markets not necessarily geared to tennis—Minneapolis; Buffalo, N.Y.; and Detroit among them. The expanded locations allow pro tennis to reach out to fans in places it is rarely seen, Mr. Courier said.
“Of the 12 cities, nine of them do not have any high-level tennis events,” he said. “It’ll be something special for the fans, all these big names coming to compete in their town.”
Past Champions Series tournaments saw players competing in a more grueling set of matches concentrated in one city over a few days.
“I think the series in previous years became a little bit limited,” said Mr. Courier. “We haven’t been able to get out to as many cities as we would have liked due to the multi-day tournament structure.”
The pared-down one-night, one-city tournaments this year are “a much better fit for the players,” he said. “It’s the perfect amount.”
The revamped schedule helped pull in big sponsors, including Staples, Geico and HSBC. The overall champion will receive $500,000 out of a million-dollar bonus pool, with second and third place scoring $350,000 and $150,000, respectively.
Mr. Courier enjoyed a storied 13-year run in professional tennis, winning four Grand Slam titles and 23 tournaments, and in 1992, becoming the first male American singles player since John McEnroe to rank No. 1 in the world. Along with Mr. McEnroe, Pete Sampras, and Andre Agassi, he also led the U.S. Davis Cup team to world domination twice in the early 1990s.
After retirement in 2001, he proved more enterprising than many former pro athletes, co-founding his own sports and entertainment event and promotion company, InsideOut, and throwing himself into charitable causes like his St. Petersburg, Fla. inner-city youth program, Raymond James Courier’s Kids.
Now he relishes his role as captain of the current Davis Cup team, where he mentors U.S. talent like Andy Roddick, 10-time Grand Slam doubles champs Bob and Mike Bryan, and 11th world-ranked men’s singles player Mardy Fish.
Messrs. Fish and Roddick currently place No. 11 and No. 12 in the world, and the Davis Cup outlook so far is promising, with the U.S. team defeating Chile 4-1 in the first round in March of this year.
But the overall numbers suggest U.S. men’s tennis is struggling. No Americans stand in the Top 10 in the world, according to ATP rankings, and only seven American male singles players rank in the Top 100. Meanwhile, European players like current No. 1-ranked Rafael Nadal continue to dominate major competitions.
“The big events in tennis are doing incredibly well,” said Mr. Courier, but keeping American attention focused on the sport is “a little bit challenging” due to a lack of exposure. “Only four times a year do the top players compete in American events,” he said. “We don’t really get a lot of momentum.”
The veterans on the series have plenty of that, though. “They like this. They want to compete,” said Mr. Courier, adding that he particularly looked forward to the match-up between Messrs. McEnroe and Borg. “Andre [Agassi] in particular wants to get out there and thanks the fans for all they’ve done for him.”