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EGGERS: What McEnroe, Agassi, Courier and Blake have to say

Tennis royalty spent a few hours at the Moda Center Thursday, providing a chance for the area's tennis community to -- figuratively, at least -- rub shoulders with four of the greats they used to watch.

John McEnroe, Andre Agassi, Jim Courier and James Blake put their aging but still splendid talents on display as part of the PowerShare Series Senior Tour at the Moda Center.

It was the ninth stop on a 12-event nostalgia tour organized by Courier, the current Davis Cup captain who won four Grand Slams during his time on the ATP circuit. Among those taking part on the tour this year are Jimmy Connors, Pete Sampras, Andy Roddick and Ivan Lendl -- a veritable "Who's Who" of the accomplished male net artists of the last two generations.

It's a series of four-player events. At each event, there are two one-set semifinal matches followed by a one-set final -- perfect for the 30-and-over set. On Thursday night, Agassi overcame McEnroe 7-5 and Blake beat Courier 6-4 in the semis. In the finals, Agassi bested Blake 6-4.

Those looking for a little gamesmanship from McEnroe weren't disappointed. Some of it was playing to the crowd; some of it, it seemed, was a result of his famous temper.

McEnroe -- trailing 5-2 at one point -- argued several line calls, smashed his racquet to the court while losing a service game and did what he could to disrupt Agassi's pace. Youth ultimately prevailed.

Blake and McEnroe had reached the finals of the two previous events, at Salt Lake City on Tuesday and Sacramento on Wednesday.

"The only thing not going that well is I'm not No. 1 on the leader board," Courier joked. "We have a rookie (Blake) making a run, Johnny Mac's been on fire and Andre is undefeated. But I love to compete. That's why I'm here."

All of the participants get a paycheck, but the competition, along with some camaraderie of the ranks, seems to genuinely drive them.

"When you're playing on the main tour, you never think you're going to do this," McEnroe said. "You don't want to do it. Second of all, you don't think it's something that will become available.

"As you get a little perspective, all of a sudden, you realize this isn't all that bad. In fact, in a way, it's more fun than it's ever been. I get a chance to go do my thing. It helps me appreciate what I was able to do before. It's a format that's set up for older guys. At least I have a fighting chance on a day-to-day basis. It's a blast, really."

Courier and Agassi are both 43. Blake is 34, having retired from the ATP Tour last year. McEnroe, meanwhile, is 55 and -- at 5-10 and 173 pounds -- a pound or two heavier than during his ATP career, and just as lean and mean.

"He's still serving great, moving really well," Blake said. "His hands will always be there. It's incredible how well he plays. I hope I can still move like him when I'm his age."

Blake is getting a chance to visit with and get to know some of the luminaries he grew up watching.

"You get to play with legends, travel around with them," Blake said. "It feels like you're back on (the ATP) tour, but for real short amounts of time as opposed to being in the grind all year. I know it was a lot quicker to get my first title out here than on the main tour. It's a good feeling to play against guys you looked up to as a kid."

Blake, who lives in Westport, Conn., has a young daughter and another one on the way. He hasn't played much tennis since retirement, but in recent weeks has trained heavily, and the results have paid off recently with victories over several of his more significant elders.

"If I could tell people I beat McEnroe, Courier and Sampras in a couple of days, they'd be impressed," said Blake, once ranked No. 4 in the world. "I don't need to mention it's on the Senior Tour."

McEnroe -- the godfather of the group except for the 61-year-old Connors, who is playing just two events -- has used the tour for motivational purposes.

"It pushes me," said the man who won seven Grand Slam titles -- three Wimbledon, four U.S. Open. "When you have something to shoot for, trying to hold your own against guys a lot younger, you need to do everything possible. Whether or not I'd be playing these (events), I'd be working out, but it gets me to push a little harder."

McEnroe runs a tennis academy at Randall's Island, N.Y., where he works out with top-ranked juniors "on a fairly regular basis," he said. He works out three days a week on cardio and strength training and plays tennis the rest.

"We're trying to push tennis as a lifetime sport," McEnroe said. "Hopefully, I can be a little bit of living proof of that."

Diet?

"There is no diet," he said, grinning. "It's not like I'm trying to play best-of-five at Wimbledon. My metabolism has always been pretty quick. After all these years playing, I've paid some dues, If I feel like I deserve to have a couple of beers here and there, or a pretzel or, God forbid, a bowl of ice cream, I can make it through."

Courier has no real history with the city of Portland, but Thursday night's other three participants do.

Agassi has been a Nike endorsee for 25 years, since he was an 18-year-old phenom from Las Vegas hitting the tour in a big way. He played several exhibitions here during his tour days. On a conference call in November, he said he regards Portland as one of his favorite places to visit. He went so far Thursday as to call the city "home," mentioning a visit he made to the Nike campus earlier in the day to put together plans for an Agassi apparel line.

"We're going to pay tribute to time spent," teased Agassi, an eight-time Grand Slam event champion. "I helped build the company. They helped build me and my career. It's because of Phil (Knight) and my relationship with Nike that I live a blessed life. It's nice to come home."

McEnroe made a "short visit" to Nike campus, too, meeting with officials at the John McEnroe building.

"Wanted to make sure it's still there," he joked. "I'm trying to get them to come up with a new McEnroe (clothing) line to remember the old guy. Phil has always taken care of me. We'll see what develops -- maybe some combination of new and retro."

Blake was a member of the 2008 U.S. team that won the Davis Cup final, selling out three days at Memorial Coliseum.

"I remember the old building," he said. "Last time I was here, we were lifting up the Davis Cup trophy. Andy and I started playing Davis Cup together in 2001. With all the losses we went through, it made it sweet to win it at home in Portland. Great fans, great team, and we all got along so well.

"This city will always going to have a special place in my heart. That was my best memory ever on tour. I'm happy to be back here."

McEnroe played on Davis Cup teams that beat Australia in ties at the coliseum in 1981 and '84. He has warm feelings about the first tie, but the first thing he mentions has nothing to do with tennis.

"I had met (blues guitarist) Buddy Guy not too long before," said McEnroe, a guitar player himself. "(Davis Cup officials) asked me, 'Is there any musical guy you want to have in the ballroom?' And Buddy played, and everyone was asking, 'Who is this Buddy Guy?' I was saying, 'The guy is just a genius.' "

The '84 experience was "sort of weird," McEnroe offered, because of his relationship -- or lack thereof -- with Davis Cup teammate Connors.

"Jimmy and I were playing together but we weren't even speaking," McEnroe said. "To have a teammate where you'd go to speak and he'd just walk the other way. … that took away from it."

After the Americans lost to Sweden in the Davis Cup finals that year -- with Connors and McEnroe acting up along the way -- Portland's sponsoring Louisiana-Pacific Corporation pushed through a code of conduct that was adopted by the U.S. Tennis Association. Connors and McEnroe bailed from the team the next year.

"It was a turning point, in a negative way," McEnroe said. "I was proud to represent my country. I did, believe it or not, try to act better (in Davis Cup competitions). I certainly acted at times in a way not what they wanted. But it was like, if you want me to play, you know what you're going to get. I'm going to do my best to try to do as good as I possibly can, but you might have to take that chance."

During that year of Davis Cup, McEnroe said U.S. captain Arthur Ashe "would always be running after me, saying, 'John! You can't do that.' It forced (McEnroe and the U.S. Davis Cup organization) to drift apart for a couple of years, which was too bad. Both of us ended up missing out."

A member of five Davis Cup championship squads, McEnroe rues the small role the international competition plays on the world's sports landscape.

"I'd like to see Davis Cup mean something," he said. "It had a lot of great memories for me. Now you don't even hear it talked about."

Rather than have ties spread throughout the year, McEnroe would make it a two-week, 16-team event at one location. He prefers semi-annual instead of annual events.

"They still have Davis Cup in an Olympic year," he said. "Makes no sense. Hopefully some people will come to their senses before it becomes a total afterthought. It's already a semi-afterthought."

Courier, who began his reign as U.S. Davis Cup captain last October, is in full agreement.

"It should be on the same platform of public consciousness as the Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup," Courier said. "Something that pops up every couple of years and attracts the general sports fans and not just the die-hard tennis fan.

"It was created in 1900. it's a competition with rich history, but it needs to progress. I'd love to see some change, but it has to come from the current players or the administrators."

Only one American -- John Isner at No. 13 -- is ranked among the men's top 50 players. McEnroe said competition with basketball and football is taking most of the nation's elite athletes away from tennis.

"Plus, it's been inaccessible or unaffordable and limiting for a lot of people for too long," McEnroe said. "You have to make people want to do it -- make it sexy in a way."

McEnroe lives in New York and would like to help draw more inner-city children into the sport.

"Harlem has a lot of history, and it's five minutes from where I live," McEnroe said. "My goal the next five to 10 years is to get some sponsorship and get kids involved and figure out a way to get them to want to do this."

Agassi and McEnroe both go from Portland to major events next Monday on "World Tennis Day." Agassi flies to London to face old rival Sampras in an exhibition while McEnroe will team with brother Patrick to face the world's top-ranked doubles team, Bob and Mike Bryan, at Madison Square Garden.

Fun stuff, just as it was Thursday night at the Moda Center.

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Twitter: @kerryeggers