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Posted on: February 16th, 2009

Pete Sampras wants to see Americans contending

- petepage

Monday, February 16, 2009

There was a period, from 1992 to 2000, when Americans -- well, Pete Sampas and Andre Agassi -- had a monopoly on the sport's marquee Grand Slam.

Sampras won Wimbledon seven times during that stretch and Agassi claimed the 1992 title.

In roughly the same era, Agassi captured four Australian Open and two U.S. Open titles and Jim Courier won two French Open titles and two Australian Opens.

Since those halcyon days, Americans have been relatively absent from the finals of majors. Andy Roddick won the 2003 U.S. Open, his only Grand Slam title, and he reached the finals of Wimbleon in 2005 and the U.S. Open in 2006.

But since his U.S. Open win, Roddick is the only American who has reached the final of a Grand Slam. The current U.S. drought -- 21 consecutive Grand Slams without a title -- is the longest since the late 1950s and early 1960s when Americans went 30 straight without a title.

Sampras, the record-holder for Grand Slam titles with 14, says while U.S. tennis fans appreciate the Roger Federer-Rafael Nadal rivalry, one of the greatest in tennis's history, the presence of an American routinely breaking through to challenge Federer, Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray at majors would re-energize the sport in this country.

''I think American fans really got behind tennis; throughout (the 2008 Wimbledon tournament) the ratings were high,'' Sampras said. ''But it would help to have an American in the mix.''

Sampras, 37, will be in Memphis tonight to participate in an exhibition match at 6:30 at The Racquet Club during the Regions Morgan Keegan Championships and the Cellular South Cup tournaments. Sampras, who won the Memphis title in 1996, will play former No. 1 and two-time Grand Slam champion Lleyton Hewitt of Australia.

Roddick, who reached the semifinals last month at the Australian Open by defeating Djokovic, is ranked sixth in the world and the top seed at this week's RMKC. His game has gotten an early season boost from new coach Larry Stefanki.

Roddick, 26, plays his first match Wednesday as does James Blake, the world No. 11 and the second-ranked American. Blake, 29, is the tournament's No. 3 seed.

With Nadal and Federer dominating at the majors -- Federer has won five straight U.S. Opens, Nadal has won four straight French Opens and the two have combined for the past six Wimbledons -- it has made breaking through difficult for Roddick and Blake.

''Andy and James are very, very good players,'' Sampras said. ''They're not quite to that (Nadal-Federer-Djokovic-Murray) level. I think it would be a huge shot in the arm to the sport if you had an American in the Top 3 winning a major (or) getting to the final of a major.

''Federer and Nadal have done a great job with their rivalry, but I'm not sure if it's going to transcend for years to come in this country. We need Andy, James, or someone coming up, that can challenge these guys and be part of the rivalries.''

While Roddick appears, at this age, to have the best shot at making another run at Grand Slam titles and occasionally toppling the Big Four players, Sampras said both Roddick and Blake remain threats. Blake is coming off the best three-year stretch of his career with two of those years ending in the Top 10.

Blake, however, has never advanced past the quarterfinal round of a major.

''I wouldn't count out James or Andy right now,'' Sampras said. ''I still think they're in contention. They're sort of dark horses at the majors.

''Consistently, I don't know if they're quite good enough to be the Top 2 in the world for a long period of time, but I think they can threaten at a major here or there.''

Sampras said the American tennis public was spoiled in the 1990s by his success and the successes of Agassi and Courier. Beyond Roddick and Blake, America's next Top 10 player has yet to be identified, although 21-year-old Sam Querrey has moved into the Top 40 and 19-year-old Donald Young has potential. Young, who is in this week's RMKC field along with Querrey, reached the Memphis quarterfinals last year, his best showing as a pro.

''I've seen Donald Young,'' Sampras said of the Atlantan, who has been ranked as high as 73 in the world. ''He's good, he's talented, but I'm not sure if he has enough firepower to get into the Top 30 or Top 20. He's a little slim.

''I don't see a crew of guys like we had in the 1990s. Four guys in the Top 10 competing for No. 1 and winning majors. It might be many years before that happens again ... I think Roger's going to dominate for a few more years and Nadal is probably going to carry the torch even longer.''

Source: Memphis Commercial Appeal

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