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No Hingis or Sampras at Olympics but plenty of other stars

Funny thing about Martina Hingis' recent announcement that she has decided not to play at the Olympics: She wasn't invited.

Funny thing about Martina Hingis' recent announcement that she has decided not to play at the Olympics: She wasn't invited.

According to the International Tennis Federation, Hingis was ineligible for the Games because she didn't make herself available to play for the Swiss Federation Cup team in 1999 or 2000.

"I didn't play Fed Cup, and that's why I'm not in the lineup," the top-ranked women's player admitted when asked about the situation. "I didn't make it. Now there are other, more important things for me to do."

Whatever the reasons, top tennis stars often skip the Olympics. That will be the case at Sydney, where the missing will include Hingis, Pete Sampras, Mary Pierce and Nathalie Tauziat, all in the top 10. John McEnroe declined an invitation to coach the U.S. men, and even American Jan-Michael Gambill, a second-tier pro enjoying his best year, decided he couldn't fit Sydney into his schedule.

Still, thanks in part to a strong U.S. team, this year's tennis could be the best since the sport returned to full-medal status in 1988.

The men's field includes 17 players ranked in the top 20 at the beginning of August. Only Sampras, Cedric Pioline of France and Mariano Puerta of Argentina will be absent.

In women's competition, just 12 of the top 20 will be in Sydney, in part because nations are limited to three players for women's singles.

Wimbledon champion Venus Williams and her sister Serena will surely create a stir in their Olympic debuts. Venus has a chance at two gold medals because she's playing doubles with Serena as well as singles.

Second-generation Olympians Andre Agassi and Lindsay Davenport hope to duplicate their gold medal performances in Atlanta. And Jeff Tarango, who takes Sampras' spot on the U.S. team, will try not to repeat the tantrums he threw at Wimbledon.

Former Grand Slam winners Michael Chang and Monica Seles also are on the U.S. squad. Women's coach Billie Jean King says her team is looking for a sweep of singles and a gold in doubles.

Direct acceptances into the Games were determined in large part by computer rankings. Thirty-nine countries from Argentina to Zimbabwe are represented.

Among those planning to compete in men's singles are Sweden's Magnus Norman, Brazil's Gustavo Kuerten, Russia's Yevgeny Kafelnikov, Spain's Alex Corretja, Germany's Nicolas Kiefer, Morocco's Younes El Aynaoui and Britain's Tim Henman.

The women's singles field will include Natasha Zvereva of Belarus, Jing Qian Yi of China, Sonja Jeyaseelan of Canada, Tamarine Tanasugarn of Thailand, Cara Black of Zimbabwe and Anne Kremer of Luxembourg.

The tennis event at Sydney will be held September 19-28.