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When it comes to new players and performers who are going to impact the professional game, the USTA is singing lyrics from Annie, belting out tomorrow is only a day away. While hopes are high because there are a number of outstanding prospects, reality finds tomorrow being more Hamlet-like, as Shakespeare noted tomorrow and tomorrow creeps into this petty pace.

Andy Roddick's pace is not creeping. A-Rod is for real. Having won his first ATP tournament at the Verizon Tennis Challenge, he moved into the top 60 in the Entry System rankings. Having scored wins over Pete Sampras and Marcelo Rios this year, there is no question the 18-year-old, who finished No. 1 in the International Tennis Federation junior rankings in both singles and doubles in 2000, has game.
Andy is the Jim Courier of the group, said Brad Stine, who along with Jose Higueras worked with Courier. He has a great work ethic, a bulldog attitude and with his forehand and serve, he has great weapons.

Being the next great American has proven to be heavy lifting for a collection of players. Roddick, as Davis Cup Captain Patrick McEnroe stated, enjoys the responsibility. He loves the pressure that's put on him being the great American hope, the captain said. I think he really revels in it.

Bobby Bernstein, a USTA National coach, touched on an important aspect of being the next American. In discussions I have had with him, it is clear that success has not gone to his head, Bernstein said. He feels he is on target. All he wants is to go about his business and focus on winning matches.

The Atlanta, Ga., victory was on clay; a surface that is not well suited to his explosive serve and ponderous forehand. He realizes that he is not a clay courter, a player that can stay back and rally to win a match, Bernstein said. That's why he went out and attacked, which is the reason he won.[Roddick followed that win up by claiming the title in Houston, again on clay.] Roddick is the youngest of the men to keep an eye on. Three 19-year-olds are a step below him on the watch-me chart.

Mardy Fish, who is coached by Stine, has enjoyed tremendous early season success. He did very well reaching the quarterfinals and defeating Thomas Enqvist at Scottsdale, Bernstein said. At the Tennis Masters Series Indian Wells, he stopped Mark Philippoussis. Two years ago, at the U.S. Open, his dad told me that Mardy is and will be a big time player. I agreed. It's great to have that kind of foresight.

Stine added, Mardy is making great progress, but since Indian Wells, he has been sick, and has lost some weight and stamina. This has messed up his schedule and he just hasn't been playing enough.

Taylor Dent, the only serve and volleyer in the trio, has spectacular tennis genes. His father Phil was an Australian Open finalist and a Roland Garros semifinalist in the 70s. His mother, Betty Ann Grubb played on the women's tour. Phil, who coached his son for some time, has stepped aside. The fact he is on his own has helped him a great deal, Bernstein said. His dad did a great job, but now Taylor is taking the last step to get there. It can be tough, but he can accomplish it.

Eliot Teltscher, a former world top-10 performer, is guiding Dent's progress. It's good to have someone like Eliot who is going to tell it like it is, Bernstein said. Teltscher said of Dent, He's a much better athlete than people think. He's so good that he has too many choices when it comes to making shots. He has been hurt a lot so he needs to get in better shape and he needs to compete better. Phil has done a good job, but he wants to be Taylor's father. Now, it's just a matter of putting all the pieces together.

Stine compared Dent to his protege saying, Just like Mardy, Taylor had some great wins at the Super Nines, but hasn't followed it up with anything to this point.

Levar Harper-Griffith is the final member of the group. When it comes to athletic ability, the last is first. He is special. It's great to see a player like Levar perform, Teltscher said. It just shows that you don't need to be 6'4" to play. He needs to learn to bring things under control. He is so athletic that he loses his way because he has so many shots.

Bernstein added, His results have been up and down. When he is healthy, he is impressive. I think he is a big time player who is still learning how to use his game. Tactically, he still beats himself. Andy and Mardy don't beat themselves. The knock against Levar is he doesn't play points he plays shots.

USA National Team coach Greg Patton was the captain of the fabled 1987 Junior Davis Cup team that included Courier, Pete Sampras, MaliVai Washington, Jeff Tarango, Jared Palmer and Jonathan Stark. He understands what it takes to move from the elite junior level to the big time. Roddick is absolutely awesome, Patton enthused. He has weapons and a passion for the game. He's the real deal. He's one hungry coyote. People don't realize Taylor is young. Thanks to his dad, he has a Ph.D. in tennis. Mardy is an artist. He is gifted. Levar oozes talent.

Davis Cup Captain Patrick McEnroe, who is preparing for the mid-September Qualifying Round tie against India, said, It's time to start looking to the future. We have a couple of guys with some serious potential and talent. Andy, so far, is the guy who has made the biggest strides. I'm going to take a young team, but a team that can win the match.

This is fine with Roddick. Hopefully, in a year or two I can just totally dominate a tie like Roger (Federer), Roddick said after winning the dead rubber in the U.S. 3-2 loss in February to Switzerland. I'm looking forward to it. I see him doing it and it makes me want to do it also.

The girls in the stars of tomorrow class also have big talent. Ashley Harkleroad, Sunitha Rao and Bethanie Mattek will be 16 this year. Jamea Jackson is by no means the last, but at 14 she is simply the youngest of the group.

Harkleroad won an ITF tournament and was a semifinalist in a $25,000 event this year, said Jai DiLouie, a National Team coach. Rao has been playing USTA Challengers since February and has her WTA ranking up to 400. Mattek had a great week at West Palm Beach, Fla., scoring wins over (Elena) Likhovtseva and (Jenny) Hopkins. Jackson has been working on getting stronger and more fit while playing Satellites. She runs so much from side to side, that she gets worn down and has problems with leg cramps. All four of the girls will be in Europe playing the Italian Open, Astrid Bowl and Roland Garros junior championships. From the clay, they will move to grass, play a warm-up event, then the Wimbledon juniors.

Katrina Adams, a veteran of the WTA tour and now a National Team coach, said of the group, At the tender age of 14 and 15 they are great talents. They are very determined and very athletic. Harkleroad, Mattek, Jackson and Rao all have a Florida connection. Harkleroad trains in Wesley Chapel, Mattek in Boca Raton while Jackson and Rao can be found in Bradenton.

The ability to move from being a talent to a first rate professional involves many factors. At the top of the list is coaching. USA Player Development provides guidance and support, but most elite performers have personal coaches.

Tarik (Benhabiles) is very wise, Patton said of the former French tour standout who is Roddick's coach. He knows the game. Look what he did for the French Federation and their juniors. Now, he is working the same magic with Andy. And you couldn't find a better match than Eliot and Taylor. One on one, Eliot's superb. Mardy's progress shows that Brad is a great mentor. Levar made a great move getting Dave Borelli, who is one of the National coaches, to work with him when he has time. All these guys know the game. They are sherpa guides leading the talent to the mountaintop.

The girls are similarly well directed. Harkleroad works with Jimmy Brown; Mattek's coach goes by the name of Swanee; Jackson is at Nick BollettieriÕs and Rao is guided by her father Manohar.

Their desire and determination sets them apart, Adams said. A lot of kids are focused and do well in tournaments. These kids are even more focused in their training effort which says a lot. They work twice as hard in practice. They have the intensity needed to take it to the top. Another important factor is that they have fun. The tennis focus is there, but they enjoy being young. They are kids aware of who they are.
As good as this group of eight is, they are not the only players receiving stars of tomorrow praise. Ytai Abougzir is 18 and after reaching the semifinals of the Coffee Bowl was ranked No. 1 by the ITF, Bernstein said. Currently, he is in the top five. He lost to Rajeev Ram in the semifinals of the Easter Bowl. Ram, who won the tournament, is 17 and a big time player. His nickname is Big Smoothâ because he has a huge serve and forehand. He loves to volley and has great touch. Once he improves his fitness, he will even be better.

Patton is a Ram fan. His mannerisms and game remind me of Pete (Sampras) at 15. He has blossomed because of Kelly Jones. Kelly's a character and he has made Rajeev, who is a sweet kid, tougher. He has helped him become a better volleyer, and gotten him in better shape. RajeevÕs a tall and lanky kid who is going to continue making leaps.

Robbie Ginepri is the same age as Roddick. In fact, he lost to Roddick in the U.S. Open junior singles final. Keep an eye on Ginepri, Stine advised. He qualified at the Ericsson beating (Cyril) Saulnier and (Sargis) Sargsian and then beat (Justin) Gimelstob in the qualifying at Atlanta. He also qualified at the U.S. Clay Courts. Though he is only ranked around 700 right now, his results show real promise.

The U.S. also has some kids among the boys, who appear to have the goods. Brian Baker and Chris Kwon are both 15, Bernstein said. Baker, who won Le Petite As, is in the ITF top 40 and Kwon is in the top 70. I see them both in the ITF top 10 in the near future.

Easter Bowl winner Megan Bradley, who is 18 and on her way to UCLA in the fall, should not be overlooked. Her power gives her the potential to beat a lot top players on hardcourts, DiLouie said. She must decide if she wants to the try pro circuit or stay at UCLA. At the Easter Bowl she just overpowered everyone including Jamea. DiLouie continued, Kristen Schlukebir won the National Girl's 18 singles and doubles. She is 17 and was great last year. She is adding to her game and making good progress. Nicole Pitts and Allison Baker were both born in 1986. Pitts, who won the Orange Bowl 14s, is strong, has a good head and a good attitude. Baker and Jackson have been No. 1 or No. 2 in the rankings throughout their careers. Ally, as she likes to be called, is a very smart player who has grown six inches in the last year. I expect Nicole and Ally to do well playing in Europe this summer.

I think the small successes these players have enjoyed are only the tip of the iceberg, Stine said. I see U.S. tennis having a bunch of new faces knocking on the top 100 door in the next six to twelve months.

Added Patton, These guys have either played with or been around Andy. He has set the standard. Now they know what they can achieve. Andy Roddick is the best thing that has happened for American tennis
 
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