Sampras hands on the torch to Roddick

  • Reuters, PTI, London
  • |
  • Updated: Aug 22, 2003 20:12 IST

It's as if Pete Sampras finally trusts Andy Roddick enough to hand on the torch of men's American tennis.

Sampras's decision to retire officially on the opening day of the U.S. Open on Monday ends one of the greatest careers in tennis.

Thirteen days later, if all goes according to the organisers' plans, another American will be on court to receive the fans' adulation after the men's singles final.

That man could be Andre Agassi but, on form alone, it is much more likely to be the 20-year-old Roddick.

For a dozen years, Sampras dominated men's tennis. All 14 of Sampras's grand slam crowns were won with the minimum of fuss as as though they were his by right.

He won his last grand slam at Flushing Meadows in 2002 but waited 12 months before finally telling the tennis world what it already knew -- that he would play no more.

This year Sampras has watched Roddick win five titles and climb to the top of the Champions Race.

The 20-year-old reached the semi-finals at Wimbledon and, after Roger Federer's success at the All England Club, he is clearly the next grand slam winner-in-waiting.

Compared with Sampras, Roddick is a very different beast, a man much more from the Andre Agassi mould.

But, like the other two, the boy can certainly play. He won back-to-back Masters Series crowns earlier this month -- in Montreal and Cincinnati -- triumphing in each in his inimitable style.


Where Sampras was deadly stealth and concentration, Roddick is an explosion of razzmataz and aggression.

Donning multi-coloured outfits and spiked-up, gelled hair, he throws himself into every shot -- not least his service which, at 149 miles (239.8 km) per hour, is the joint-fastest on record.

There are many who believe the swaggering 20-year-old stands on the verge of greatness.

"It's the attitude... it's the charisma... it's the personality," Boris Becker said earlier this month when describing what it takes to become a great. "Andy Roddick has all those ingredients."

Roddick's new coach Brad Gilbert, the man who guided Andre Agassi to grand slam glory, is in no doubt.

"I don't want to say 'ok, he has to win eight or 10 grand slams to become the next great player'... I don't want to put pressure on him.

"But eight years from now he will have done some amazing things. He's got an unbelievable opportunity to become an amazing player.

"He has got an unbelievable serve and a huge forehand... what I call a 'surf and turf'.

"But everything he does he can do better. He's only 20 years old. I don't think he is anywhere near where he is going to be in three years' time.

"He can serve better, he can volley better, he can move better around the court."

Not a pleasant thought for those players struggling to keep up with the nascent Roddick.

A turning point in his career came at the U.S. Open last year when his swagger was replaced by serious contemplation.

He lost to Sampras in the quarter-finals at Flushing Meadows and was desperately disappointed.

He had been taught a lesson by the master.

"I watched what I should be doing on all the big points because I was on the other side of it," he said at the time.

"You know, I think I'll have my moment here some day."

Not many would now disagree.


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