Tennis: A Jags and riches story

Ronald Atkin says Jan-Michael Gambill is the new age model
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The Independent Online
TENNIS PLAYERS tend to react to defeat by trashing the locker- room, destroying their rackets or weeping quietly. When Jan-Michael Gambill lost here on Wednesday he went out and bought a car. A Jaguar. His fifth.

At 21, Gambill has rocketed from obscurity a year ago to 31 in the rankings. As America's fourth-ranked player, he must logically be included when the US team to face Britain at Birmingham next month is announced, since Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi have confirmed their lack of interest.

Selection would be wonderful news for the six-footer with the blond hair and bright blue eyes more normally associated in these parts with people who ride surfboards. It would be "awesome", he says, to be on the team, but almost as awesome would be the chance to visit Jaguar's production line and museum near Coventry. "I wouldn't miss that for the world," he said. "They have lots of one-of-a-kind cars in that museum. I'll be drooling."

Gambill's love affair with Jaguars began as a child. "Riding in my mom's XJ6 I used to feel comfortable and safe. That kind of carried through, plus I always loved the look of Jags. Cats are my favourite animal anyway, and they look like cats, ready to pounce."

Defeat by Richard Krajicek here saw him heading for the showrooms to plunge on a new XJR Sedan. "The fastest, love it," he said. "It's a pretty fun hobby and I'm really lucky to be able to exercise it. I don't think there is a limit to the number of Jags I want to own, just got to be careful. I don't want to spend it all on cars."

One reason Gambill can afford the indulgence is that he still lives with his parents on a 10-acre spread in Colbert, where he stores the cars. "There is no more space so I built a big garage out of a barn which will take up to 10 cars."

Jan-Michael, who is coached by his father Chuck, got his unusual name because his mother Diane admired a B movie actor called Jan-Michael Vincent. Isn't it a wrist-aching chore when doing autographs, though? "No. I am going to continue to write out my name, hyphen and everything. If people want 'em, I don't mind that it takes longer."

Conscious of his status as a role model on and off court, Gambill is unfailingly polite, even to the most relentless of pesterers. "Hopefully, people are looking up to me and I hope I am a positive influence."

Those facing him across a tennis net receive no such deference. "I like to hit the crap out of the ball," he says. "I have the most fun when I am just ripping it." Gambill finds no problem with crowd involvement. "I like to hear people yelling out. The louder the better, as long as it's between points. I enjoy being close to the fans. I'm lucky having people interested in me and my game.

"People are looking for a young American to move up and hopefully I'll fit the bill. Right now I see the top 10 in my sights. That is my big goal. Over the last year I have learned so much. My volleys have improved 100 per cent and I'm a lot more court-wise."

Many are more interested in Gambill's face than his two-fisted forehand. "Guys get to watch Anna Kournikova so it's only fair the girls get Jan- Michael," said 12-year-old Jennifer Riley. After he beat Andre Agassi at Indian Wells a year ago, model agency representatives threw their business cards on court and Agassi quipped: "If Dennis Rodman saw Jan-Michael take his shirt off he would put on a dress and go out with him."

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