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SPORTS EXTRA: SYDNEY 2000 / SUMMER OLYMPIC GAMES

Tennis

With Sampras Not Playing, Australian Men and Venus Williams Will Be in the Spotlight

September 10, 2000|LISA DILLMAN

MEN

* OVERVIEW--An Olympic gold medal--or any Olympic medal--is missing from the resume of Pete Sampras, along with a French Open singles title.

It's pretty easy to guess which he misses more.

At least he shows up in Paris every year. Sampras, unwilling to make the arduous trip to Australia, said long ago he would not be in Sydney and hasn't changed his mind. For many of the male players, the Olympics is simply another event, a twin of the ATP tournament held in Sydney in January. In fact, it is at the same facility in Homebush Bay. The same distinct lack of enthusiasm is not held by the Australian men, however.

Two- time U.S. Open champion and 2000 Wimbledon finalist Patrick Rafter is a patriotic, down-to- earth mate, and star-in-waiting Lleyton Hewitt is a patriotic, down-to-earth junior mate. Moody, brooding Mark Philippoussis, a finalist at the '98 U.S. Open, fills the role of Aussie villain because of his perceived lack of patriotism and inconsistent commitment to Davis Cup.

And finally, cue the music. The last stand for the venerable Woodies--the duo of Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde--will be a compelling saga. This will be the final major event for the winningest doubles team of all time because Woodforde, 35, is retiring.

* OTHERS TO WATCH--Gustavo Kuerten of Brazil was gone after the second day of the U.S. Open, so he should be well-rested. With Andre Agassi out, look to others with legitimate hard-court credentials, including Magnus Norman of Sweden, Alex Corretja of Spain and Tim Henman of Great Britain.

* BEST STORY--Rafter. His career was in doubt when he needed shoulder surgery a year ago, and he struggled greatly in his return. But Rafter won the hearts of Aussies when he reached the final at Wimbledon, and immediately returned home to represent his country in the Davis Cup semifinals against Brazil.

* SOUTHLAND CONNECTIONS--Michael Chang, 28, Valencia (Placentia) High; Jeff Tarango, 31, Manhattan Beach Mira Costa High.

* KEY DATES--Sept. 26, doubles gold medal; Sept. 27, singles gold medal.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Fast Fact

* The absence of Sampras and Jan-Michael Gambill on the U.S. team opened the door for Jeff Tarango. The often-controversial Tarango has always been a fan of the Olympics.

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