The game's superpowers do battle for the Davis Cup this weekend, with the United States relying on the power of Pete Sampras after losing the tactical touch of Andre Agassi.
Clay-court specialist Agassi has pulled out of the final against Russia on the soft, red indoor surface of Moscow's Olympic stadium, although he has turned up to cheer on his colleagues. The 25-year-old from Las Vegas has been suffering from a chest injury since the Americans' 4-1 semi-final win over the champions, Sweden, in September, and may be out of the game until January.
Asked whether the loss of Agassi would affect the US camp, their captain, Tom Gullikson, said: "I think we will do very well. We have a very strong team. We knew that both Jim [Courier] and Pete would have to play the first day. I have got the utmost confidence in both."
Sampras, the world No 1 and champion at Wimbledon and the US Open this year, leads the attack, aiming to bring the Davis Cup to America for the 31st time in its 95-year history. Courier, a former No 1 and twice winner of both the French and Australian Opens, will use his renowned clay-court skills as the second singles player.
The doubles provide a combination of serving power from Todd Martin and experience from Richie Reneberg, a former US Open doubles champion.
The hosts, appearing in their second consecutive final after a tense 3-2 semi-final victory over Germany, will rely heavily on the world No 6, Yevegny Kafelnikov. The 21-year-old right-hander reached the French Open semi-final and the quarter-finals at Wimbledon and in Australia this year. His second singles match against the eighth-ranked Courier should prove an even-handed affair, pitting two clay-court experts.
His team-mate Andrei Chesnokov, 29, is ranked a lowly 90th in the world but has a knack of rising to the occasion for his country. He saved nine match points against Germany's world No 12, Michael Stich, in the deciding match of the semi-final before coming through 14-12 in the final set. Chesnokov has the daunting prospect of meeting Sampras in the first match today, while Kafelnikov partners Andrei Olkhovsky in Sunday's doubles.
Much attention has focused on the indoor clay court the home side has opted to use, hoping to blunt the attack of the big hitters. Russia were fined pounds 16,500 for failing to prepare the surface properly for their semi- final against Germany and the opening game was delayed for an hour because the referee decided the court was dangerous after it had been overwatered.Reuse content