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Sampras, Agassi Aren't Ready for the Oldies Bin Yet

Tennis: Both sweep through first round at U.S. Open, though Damm pushes Wimbledon champion a bit.


NEW YORK — A new marketing push to introduce Generation Next in men's tennis seems to have forgotten one thing.

The old guard still stands.

Andre Agassi is the top-seeded player and defending champion at the U.S. Open, and Pete Sampras' dogged pursuit of the all-time record for Grand Slam singles championships ended triumphantly only eight weeks ago at Wimbledon, yet the ATP seems determined, more than a little prematurely, to push its enduring and endearing champions into rocking chairs.

Even as Sampras, 29, celebrated his seventh Wimbledon title--and his 13th Grand Slam championship, breaking a record he shared with Roy Emerson--the ATP this summer introduced a campaign with a cheeky slogan, "New Balls Please," to promote what it hopes will be a new wave of stars.

"It's an interesting slogan," Sampras said Monday after beating Martin Damm of the Czech Republic, 7-6 (3), 7-5, 6-4, in the first round of the U.S. Open. "I'm still trying to figure it out. . . .

"[But] it's not an insult to me. I'm above that."

But he's not going away.

On a day when fifth-seeded Yevgeny Kafelnikov, 26, of Russia had to overcome a two-set deficit to beat unheralded Orlin Stanoytchev of Bulgaria, 6-7 (5), 1-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-3, the 30-year-old Agassi overwhelmed NCAA champion Alex Kim of Stanford, 6-4, 6-2, 6-0, and Sampras plowed through Damm at Flushing Meadows.

Though Sampras sat out last year's U.S. Open because of a herniated disc and is seeded fourth this year, his lowest seeding in a Grand Slam event since he was seeded sixth in this event in 1991, he believes he is no less a threat to win his fifth U.S. Open title.

"I don't think I'll be forgotten," he said. "I still feel like if I get my game going, I can win here easily."

He admits, though, that his push to the record took its toll. He lost to Marat Safin of Russia, part of the so-called new wave, in the quarterfinals at Toronto during the first week of August and to Tim Henman of Great Britain in the round of 16 at Cincinnati a week later.

"Through the summer, you know, there were times I felt the effects of Wimbledon," he said. "It took a lot out of me emotionally. . . .

"I feel like what happened at Wimbledon, I won a Super Bowl. Those guys have four months to enjoy it; I had two weeks. It's just the way the sport is.

"You only have so much time to get ready for the Open."

After two weeks off, though, Sampras said he's ready.

"I'm not setting any new numbers," he said of his new goals now that has overtaken Emerson. "I'm just going to try to add to it, try to find new ways for motivation over the next number of years.

"Majors will always be my focus--just see if I can make it 14 or 15. But I'm not setting a number."

For Agassi, the number that matters most is years--as in, how many does he have left?

"You know, I've felt the same sense of urgency the last couple of years," he said. "That's a question of perspective. I feel like I've had an accurate sense of perspective. You never know, whether it be by choice or by injury, when it's going to be your last Open."

Agassi never let up against Kim.

"I was hitting some pretty good serves, in my opinion, and he was hitting them back, like, twice as hard--and deep," said Kim, a wild card who has not yet decided if he will return to school for his senior year. "You know, usually after I hit a good serve, I'm kind of able to control the point. After I hit a good first serve, I was on the defensive, which I'm not used to. . . .

"I was sitting there in the third set thinking, 'Take me back to Stanford.' "


Featured Matches

Today's schedule of highlighted matches at the $15-million U.S. Open. Play begins on all courts at 8 a.m. PDT:


* Gala Leon Garcia, Spain, vs. Lindsay Davenport (2)

* Wayne Arthurs, Australia, vs. Gustavo Kuerten (2), Brazil

* Serena Williams (5) vs. Tina Pisnik, Slovenia

Night Session -- Play begins at 4:30 PDT

* Anna Kournikova (12), Russia, vs. Holly Parkinson

* Galo Blanco, Spain, vs. Patrick Rafter, Australia


* Chris Woodruff vs. John van Lottum, Netherlands

* Alexandra Stevenson vs. Mary Pierce (4), France

* Todd Martin vs. Vince Spadea

* Conchita Martinez (7), Spain, vs. Amy Frazier

* Michael Chang vs. Harel Levy, Israel


* Anke Huber (10), Germany, vs. Meilen Tu

* Mariano Puerta, Argentina, vs. Thomas Enqvist (7), Sweden

* Lisa Raymond vs. Magdalena Grzybowska, Poland

* Alex Corretja (8), Spain, vs. Paradorn Srichaphan, Thailand

* Andy Roddick vs. Albert Costa, Spain

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