Years before their rivalry that simmered on the back courts of the Bollettieri Academy burned to a full boil in the 1991 French Open final, Andre Agassi and Jim Courier shared an inspiration in ice.
As Bjorn Borg, Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe were busy battling for Grand Slam supremacy, the prodigies were avidly rooting for the man known as Ice Borg.
"My tennis hero was really Bjorn Borg, the guy that first sort of got me excited about the sport," Courier said. "I wasn't allowed to cheer for McEnroe or Connors because of their behavior. I probably would have cheered for them, but my parents instructed me firmly that Bjorn needed to be my idol and my hero."
While parental guidance played a part in Courier's rooting interest; Agassi's affinity was rooted in Borg's placid disposition and booming ground game.
"I always rooted very hard for Bjorn as well," Agassi said. "He was easy to like, easy to root for. I tried to imitate a little bit of everybody's game. I did that with Bjorn. I did that with John. I did that with Jimmy...I didn't like Mac and Connors because of certain behavioral things. As I got older, I learned to like Mac."
Arch-rivals Connors and McEnroe reunite along with Borg devotees Agassi and Courier in the 2014 PowerShares Series, which receives a power boost courtesy of "senior" circuit rookies—and former U.S. Davis Cup teammates—Andy Roddick and James Blake.
The PowerShares Series launches its 2014 season on February 5 in Kansas City and will hit cities including Denver, Houston, Indianapolis, Salt Lake City, and Portland before concluding on March 21 in Surprise, Arizona. Hall of Famers Pete Sampras, Ivan Lendl, Michael Chang, and Mats Wilander, along with veterans Todd Martin and Mark Philippoussis, are also scheduled to compete.
Tennis is touted as a sport for a lifetime, and the inter-generational competition shapes up as one for the ages, with players ranging from 31 years old (Roddick) to 61 (Connors). If the prospect of the combative Connors facing his former charge evokes thoughts of Stan Smith challenging Stan Wawrinka, Courier, whose InsideOut Sports & Entertainment company produces the tour, says the four-man field in each of the 12 tour stops will feature age-appropriate matches.
"We're not going to certainly put Andy Roddick against his former coach, Jimmy Connors, because that certainly isn't going to be that competitive," Courier told the media in a conference call to promote the tour. "Not that Jimmy isn't a great player and champion, but obviously the age is significant when you put James or Andy, who are fairly fresh off the tour, into that environment. You'll see a very competitive night of tennis no matter where you are on our tour."
The format re-imagines the one-night stands of the Jack Kramer-led, barnstorming pro tours, as each event will feature two one-set semifinal matches, followed by a one-set championship match. Fans can also pay to play in clinics with the pros. (Having been aced by Patrick Rafter on the first serve he struck and blitzed by a searing Sampras forehand pass during a pro-am tiebreaker at Madison Square Garden earlier this year, I can report it was both an exhilarating and extremely humbling experience). Tickets start at $25 and all ticket and VIP information is available at PowerSharesSeries.com.