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Monday, 9 September, 2002, 10:53 GMT 11:53 UK
Time for a new rivalry
Andre Agassi (left) and Pete Sampras (right) after the US Open final
Sampras and Agassi have dominated the men's game

Pete Sampras' triumph over Andre Agassi in the US Open has forced the record book writers, once again, to rewrite their tomes.

Yet, while the American's 14th Grand Slam title is the highlight of a glorious Indian Summer to his career, the golden era of Sampras and Agassi is coming to an end.

These two great rivals have dominated the men's game during the past decade, but who among the next generation will be filling their shoes?

  Head to head:
Sampras v Agassi
Sampras 20
Agassi 14

Career titles:
Sampras 64
Agassi 53

Grand Slam wins:
Sampras 14
Agassi 7

Prize money:
Sampras $43m
Agassi $25m

Lleyton Hewitt, who became the youngest-ever world number one towards the end of 2001, is widely tipped as the next player to dominate the men's game.

Just 21, the Australian has already won 16 titles and his Wimbledon triumph in June was his second Grand Slam win.

He has been labelled by Sampras as "the future of tennis", although his game bears more resemblance to Agassi's.

Not a huge server, his unerring - and unnerving - accuracy saw him sweep aside allcomers at Wimbledon, dropping just two sets along the way.

It would seem the only person who can prevent Hewitt enjoying a lengthy spell at the top is himself - despite his passion on court, his love of the sport remains curiously lukewarm.

He has admitted he would sometimes rather be playing Aussie rules football than tennis.

Lleyton Hewitt
Who will challenge Lleyton Hewitt in the future?

He needs a true rival to force him to improve - in the same way as John McEnroe needed Bjorn Borg to reach his best.

Russia's Marat Safin seems the most natural opponent.

His big-serving, powerful game contrasts with Hewitt's in a similar way to how Sampras' differed from Agassi.

In head-to-head encounters, both players have three wins, yet Safin is notoriously inconsistent, seemingly plagued by even more inner demons than the Australian.

Still, aged just 22, time is very much on the Russian's side - not a luxury which Britain's Tim Henman enjoys.

Henman, 28, has consistently failed to beat the very best in the sport.

  Players' ages upon winning their last Grand Slam
Bjorn Borg - 25
John McEnroe - 25
Stefan Edberg - 26
Boris Becker - 28
Andre Agassi - 30
Jimmy Connors - 31
Pete Sampras - 31

He has only beaten Pete Sampras once in their seven meetings, at the ATP Masters Series event in Cincinnati.

And it is cruel for Henman that as Sampras' powers began to fade, in came Hewitt - who has a 100% record against the Briton in their six meetings.

Perhaps a bigger threat to Hewitt's dominance comes from the clay court specialists.

Gustavo Kuerten is moving towards fitness after a lengthy lay-off and will be always be a threat on clay.

Hewitt has, however, beaten Kuerten in their one and only meeting on the surface - although the Australian has never progressed beyond the quarter-finals at Roland Garros.

Albert Costa, this year's French Open champion, is another clay-courter who could trouble the Aussie.

But Costa is now 27, and Kuerten approaching 26 - so neither are likely to be able to sustain their challenge at the top for the next decade.

Maybe the new breed of American stars, Andy Roddick and James Blake, will prove the biggest rivals to Hewitt in years to come.

Both are young and have plenty of promise, although neither has quite managed to impact on the world stage as of yet.

Indeed, the way in which the old master Sampras knocked over young pretender Roddick in straight sets in the US Open suggests the upstarts might still have to play second fiddle for a while yet.

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See also:

09 Sep 02 | US Open
11 Mar 02 | Tennis
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