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American Andy Roddick: Is he the next Sampras?

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PHILADELPHIA (Sports Network) - If American tennis fans want to know who's going to be the next Pete Sampras...they may have to look no further than 18-year-old Nebraska native Andy Roddick.

The comparisons to Pistol Pete have been coming fast and furious -- much like Andy's booming, Sampras-esque serve which is often clocked at over 130 miles per hour.

Roddick hears the talk everywhere he goes: "He's the next great American star," or "He's the next Pete Sampras." And with his budding career taking off, Roddick claims that he doesn't feel overwhelmed by the expectations placed on him by fans, tournament directors, and, of course, media types. "I try not to think about it. What people say won't help me win matches," said Roddick. "The only pressure I feel is what I put on myself."

The teenage phenom turned pro back in February and has shown flashes of his brilliance over the past year, one in which he captured U.S. and Australian Open junior titles. He injured his knee at the French Open juniors which prevented him from competing at the Wimbledon juniors.

Roddick's fantastic serve is the cornerstone of his formidable game. He possesses a great combination of talent and confidence...which led him to an easy decision to turn pro, rather than joining the college ranks. Roddick's older brother John is an assistant coach at the University of Georgia.

"A-Rod" has stepped up to the challenge, winning the Austin and Burbank Challenger events, having competed in just nine pro tournaments all told. On the ATP circuit, Roddick has already posted victories against Frenchman Fabrice Santoro, who has been ranked as high as 30th in the world, Spaniard Fernando Vicente, who has climbed as high as No. 40 on the world ledger, and Slovakian Karol Kucera, a year-end No. 8 just two years ago. Roddick stunned, in order, Adrian Voinea, Santoro and Kucera before falling to the legendary Andre Agassi in a rain-interrupted quarterfinal in Washington, D.C. Agassi would reach the Legg Mason final in the nation's capital, where he eventually succumbed to Spanish star Alex Corretja.

Roddick, who now resides in Boca Raton, Florida, has the perfect tennis frame, at 6-2, 180 pounds (Sampras is 6-1, 175 pounds). His blistering serve, a product of high and broad shoulders, has been clocked as high as 139 m.p.h., or, the fastest serve recorded at the 2000 U.S. Open. Roddick attributes his serving prowess to timing and good wrists.

He also boasts a strong net game and fatal groundstrokes that feature a variety in placement, pace and spin. Roddick hits well off both wings and is nimble around the court, where his manners are impeccable, disguising a strong fighting spirit.

There are no weaknesses in Roddick's game, except for maybe his second serve -- a well-overspun stroke that seems to land short more often than he would like.

The rocket on the rise credits coach Tarik Benhabiles as his greatest tennis influence. Benhabiles has shown Roddick, who has always been able to strike the tennis ball with great force, how to play the game and win points without knocking the air out of the fuzzy sphere. The education has enabled the American to take his game to another level -- a potentially world-class one.

He's already had some great experiences, like playing with Sampras and Agassi at Davis Cup, as well as hitting with Jim Courier at some charity events. Roddick says Agassi is the nicest player he's met on tour, asking the youngster to come hit with him on a couple of occasions and giving his countryman "lots of advice."

Roddick played opposite Agassi two times in 2000, falling to the career Grand Slam ace, 6-2, 6-3 in Miami, and 6-4, 6-4 in D.C.

The young American appeared in the main draw at the 2000 U.S. Open, where he suffered a first-round loss against erratic Spaniard Albert Costa, a four-set victor.

The Omaha native will head into the 2001 ATP season after finishing 2000 as the 160th ranked player in the world. His highest Champions Race ranking was 147th in late August.

Roddick, an affable, charismatic crowd pleaser, posted a 4-5 record this past season and took home $79,930 in prize money. But look for those numbers to improve greatly in 2001. This kid has some Grand Slam trophies in his future.

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