Tennis: Search on for new Americans

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PETE SAMPRAS, five times the Wimbledon champion, is back at No 1, the French Open title-holder, Andre Agassi, is ranked fourth, and Todd Martin has just slipped out of the top 10 during one of his best years.

Along with Jim Courier and Michael Chang, they have also been the leading Americans around the top of world tennis for the best part of a decade. So where are the new Americans? Who is there to provide the new challenge if these five all suddenly decided to retire?

Going into Wimbledon, Vince Spadea was ranked 29 having slipped four places from 25, Jan-Michael Gambill has slid from 31 to 49 with Justin Gimelstob at 66 and Cecil Mamiit at 78. Perhaps the fastest American riser is Paul Goldstein, who has climbed from 427 in 1996 to a current 112.

Martin, who was ranked fifth in the world back in 1994, slipped down to 81st in 1997 and then jumped back to No 8 in April, admits the young Americans are finding it tough to catch up.

"It took me quite a while [to get back in the top 10] and I would expect it to take some of the guys who are threatening now a little while longer," Martin said. "I think probably the most important thing is self-belief and they all have confidence that they can go out on the court on a given day and beat the best players in the world.

"Most of the limitations that players are held back by are mental, usually. I think that as they grow mentally and experience more and more competition, they'll all get better at it."

Jim Courier believes it was not just Tim Henman who beat him for a place in the quarterfinalsat Wimbledon. He thought the net cord was on the Brit's side as well.

Asked to describe his relationship with the net cord after his 4-6, 7- 5, 7-5, 6-7, 9-7 defeat by Henman in a four and a half hour match, which started Monday and finished Wednesday, he replied: "Very unfriendly."

Courier said the net cord helped several of Henman's shots and the American mockingly waved his arms to the sky when one landed in his favour.

"Net cord and I need to have a little chat," he said. "I need to get one of those British nets and bring it into my bed and sleep with it and cuddle with it at night a little bit."

Richard Krajicek, the 1996 champion and fifth seed who lost in the third round, is due to marry his long-time girlfriend, Daphne Deckers, who played a James Bond girl in the film Tomorrow Never Dies. The wedding is set for next week.