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LONDON: Roger Federer's stunning Wimbledon triumph on Sunday had tennis fans drooling and pundits predicting a Pete Sampras-like reign for the young Swiss.

The 21-year-old finally clicked on the big stage to become the first man from his country to win a grand slam singles title and, at the same time, opened the door for a new brigade of potential grand slam winners.

With Andre Agassi in the twilight of his magical career and 14-time grand slam winner Sampras almost certain never to return, there is suddenly a chance for somebody to seize power in the men's game.

As Lleyton Hewitt has discovered, however, that is much easier said than done.

The Australian became the youngest player to finish the year as world no 1 in 2001 after beating Sampras to win the United States Open. He remained on top throughout 2002 when he claimed the Wimbledon title and he seemed set to dominate.

This year has been a struggle, though.

A third-round defeat at Roland Garros and a first-round exit at Wimbledon have dropped him to five in the rankings and momentarily out of the limelight.

At 22, however, the tenacious baseliner will probably return even stronger to provide years of fierce competition for Federer and a brigade of young hotshots led by Andy Roddick and Guillermo Coria.

Roddick, still only 20, has already progressed to two grand slam semi-finals this year, the second of which ended in a humbling defeat by Federer at Wimbledon Open.

Power and personality

A 0-4 record against the Swiss suggests he still has some way to go but, with Brad Gilbert as coach, the powerful young US player, once dubbed the "future of American tennis" by Sampras, appears to have the power and personality to be a big threat to Federer.

Argentinian Coria, 21, broke through this year with sensational performances on clay. He reached the final in Monte Carlo, captured his first Masters Series title in Hamburg, then beat Agassi on the way to the semi-finals of Roland Garros.

There are still question marks over his prowess on hard courts, however, and a true measure of his all-round credentials will come later this year at Flushing Meadow.

Juan Carlos Ferrero's maiden grand slam title at Roland Garros this year marks him out as another potential resident of the world number-one slot.

The Spaniard, regarded as a specialist claycourter, has proved himself on a variety of surfaces this year, reaching the Sydney International final before a run to the quarter-finals at the Australian Open.

The 23-year-old then produced his best ever Wimbledon showing, losing to Sebastien Grosjean in the last 16.

Another Spaniard, 17-year-old Rafael Nadal, has already been tipped by John McEnroe to be a top 10 player within a year.

Whether he achieves that feat or not, his results this season suggest he is a big name in the making.

Wins against two former French Open champions, Albert Costa in Monte Carlo and Carlos Moya in Hamburg, made the tennis world sit up and take notice.

He then reached the third round of Wimbledon, showing a willingness to attack the net that has set him aside from many of his compatriots.

Throw into the equation the likes of Russia's injury-hit former US Open winner Marat Safin, still only 23, big-hitting 22-year-old Chilean Fernando Gonzalez and French teenager Paul-Henri Mathieu and the future of men's tennis looks an appetizing prospect.

Agencies via Xinhua

(China Daily 07/10/2003 page8)


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