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American Tennis Back on Top After Year of Fear
AMERICAN TENNIS BACK ON TOP AFTER YEAR OF FEAR
By Richard Vach
U.S. Finishes No. 1 in Men's singles and Team Rankings for First Time in 19 Years
American tennis fans (and the tennis media) were wringing their hands at the beginning of 2003 with the impending retirement of Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi, and no one stepping up to fill the void.
Andy Roddick finished 2002 ranked No. 10, but had still not won a Tennis Masters Series of Grand Slam title, and contemporaries James Blake, Mardy Fish, and Robby Ginepri were doing little more than posting big wins here and there. Doubles specialists Bob and Mike Bryan were en route to becoming a force, but had yet to make their debut for the U.S. Davis Cup team.
American tennis had some cakes in the oven, but nothing on the display rack. And with Sampras and Agassi into their 30s, usually the age of decline for a tennis player, it was just a matter of time before they were moved to the day-old bin. But enough baking analogies.
What a different a year makes.
Fast forward to year-end 2003, and American tennis is on top of the world, with Roddick clinching the year-end No. 1 ranking in singles, and the Bryan twins securing the No. 1 doubles ranking.
"I'm incredibly honored to finish the year as No. 1, but I'm probably more proud to be the sixth American ever," said Roddick, coming in behind Jimmy Connors (1974-78), John McEnroe (1981-84), Jim Courier (1992), Pete Sampras
(1993-98) and Andre Agassi (1999). "It's hard to reflect on what a year this has been, but I'm incredibly fortunate to be playing at home in the United States. To be able to share all of this with my friends and family is better than I could have ever imagined."
Andre Agassi says there is no doubt the US Open champ earned the top spot.
"For him sort of to dominate the hardcourt season the way he did is incredible," said Agassi, who only earned the year-end top spot once due to his penchant for skipping much of the European indoor season each year after the US Open. "I did that in 1999, and it just took a lot out of me. So for him to pull it off is a great accomplishment. He's proven himself to be No. 1 over the greatest players in the world, so he has a lot to feel proud about."
After toiling for years on the doubles circuit the Bryan brothers success came quickly this year, winning in their debut for the U.S. Davis Cup team, and clinching the year-end No. 1 ranking for the first time on the strength of four titles on three different surfaces at Barcelona (clay), the French Open (clay), Nottingham (grass), and the TMS-Cincinnati (hard).
"We're happy to be the first brothers team to finish No. 1 and that was our biggest dream in the world along with playing Davis Cup," Mike said. "We've accomplished both goals this year. We're happy that we're making doubles more popular and there's been great doubles played here (at the Masters Cup in Houston) all week. We hope to finish here with a title."
Brother Bob Bryan said the accolades and accomplishments came quick in 2003.
"The whole year in general was successful because we accomplished five of our lifetime goals -- winning a Grand Slam, breaking the Gullikson brothers' record, reaching No. 1 individually, playing Davis Cup, and finishing the year No. 1," Bob said. "It feels really good and all the hard work we put in through the years has paid off this year. Coming in we knew we had to play well here and we worked hard to prepare for this week."
It was 19 years ago when the U.S. last topped the singles and doubles year-end ranks with John McEnroe in singles and doubles (with partner Peter Fleming).