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Last Updated: Monday, 8 September, 2003, 14:40 GMT 15:40 UK
New breed finally born
By Sophie Brown

In 2000, the ATP launched their New Balls campaign "to promote the new breed of players entering the game and challenging the 'old guard'".

Three years later, the transition would appear to be almost complete.

Reigning US Open champion Pete Sampras retired at the beginning at this year's tournament and Andy Roddick's succession to his Flushing Meadows crown is likely to prove more than just symbolic.

A period of flux has seen eight different players win the last eight Grand Slam events, with the last three going to Juan Carlos Ferrero, Roger Federer and Roddick.

Aged 23, 22 and 21 respectively, the trio also occupies the top three places in the world rankings.

And with half the top ten occupied by players who are 23 or under, the years ahead seem set for some fascinating rivalries.


Andy Roddick

Age: 21
Nationality: American
Grand Slam titles: 1

"A-Rod" has carried the burden of being the future of US men's tennis since he burst onto the scene in 2001 but his maiden victory in the US Open means he is now its present.

Too young to be one of the original "New Balls", Roddick is undoubtedly the game's new young superstar.

Roddick could be the man to make tennis sexy again in the US - on court he is fiercely competitive, brash and unafraid to show his emotions.

The tantrums of the early days may be fewer now as Roddick has matured but he will still happily argue the toss and whip up the crowd to suit his purpose, once high-fiving with a fan after a point at the US Open.

And when he meets fellow fire-blower Lleyton Hewitt, there could be fireworks - the last time the pair met in the quarter-finals of the 2001 US Open, Roddick threw a fit after a crucial overrule by the umpire.


Juan Carlos Ferrero

Age: 23
Nationality: Spanish
Grand Slam titles: 1

The man they call "Mosquito" due to his slight build and his speed around the court had been buzzing around the fringes of the big-time for a couple of years before clinching his first Grand Slam at the French Open.

He just failed to turn that into a second at the US Open but has the compensation of becoming the world number one on his way to the runner's-up spot at Flushing Meadows.

The laidback Latin never shows much visible emotion although he does dedicate his big wins to his mother, who died when he was 17.

Ferrero didn't cope well with Roddick in the US Open final but his consistently high standard on all surfaces means he is likely to be a fixture in the top 10 for years to come.


Roger Federer

Age: 21
Nationality: Swiss
Grand Slam titles: 1

The Wimbledon champion is another player who keeps his cool on court and avoids histrionics.

But once the match is done, it can all come flooding out - as his tearful victory at Wimbledon showed.

In terms of pure talent, he is unmatched but consistency has been his downfall in the past and could prevent him from a more permanent place at tennis' top table.

In fact, his most fierce rivalry could end up being with himself.


Lleyton Hewitt

Age: 22
Nationality: Australian
Grand Slam titles: 2

Such was Hewitt's prodigious talent, it is hard to believe that the two-time Grand Slam winner, who helped set the trend for players wearing baseball caps backwards, is still only 22.

A player in the Jimmy Connors mould, Hewitt will never give up and is likely to be picking up major titles for many years to come.

And his feisty uncompromising style means that the man on the other side of the court is immediately a fierce rival.

The Australian has gone off the boil in recent months but once back to form, is sure to be making his presence felt again.


David Nalbandian

Age: 21
Nationality: Argentine
Grand Slam titles: 0

Argentina's best player since Guillermo Vilas, Nalbandian is fast proving that his Wimbledon final appearance last year was no fluke.

The 21-year-old can cope with any surface and has the ability to find the lines with metronomic regularity.

Nalbandian is a keen fisherman, implying that he likes the quiet life but he is not one to be intimidated on court and will fight his corner.

The only one of the five still searching for a Grand Slam title, but after a couple of near misses that surely cannot be too long in arriving.





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