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Open offers hope, but U.S. prospects still a question

There were many smiles during the final weekend of the U.S. Open, especially from U.S. Tennis Association officials. Why not? The weekend featured two Americans in the women's singles final, one in the men's final and three in the junior boys semifinals.

But behind those smiles there ought to have been concern, worry about what lies beyond the weekend. It's not like the USTA suits haven't been told what's coming. The rather bleak outlook for American tennis on the men's tour has been widely reported.

After Pete Sampras, 29, Andre Agassi, 30, and Todd Martin, 30, there is not much to get excited about. Several are young pros on tour _ Jan Michael Gambill, Justin Gimelstob, Paul Goldstein _ but none are being hailed as future Grand Slam champions.

There are, however, some decent juniors on the horizon. Andy Roddick, an 18-year-old from Boca Raton, won the junior boys singles title at Flushing Meadows. And 14-year-old Jamea Jackson of Atlanta caused a stir in the junior girls event, knocking out third seed IoanaGaspar in the opening round and nearly toppling 13th seed Matea Mezak in the third round.

But many of the most promising juniors, such as Jackson, aren't products of the USTA. Jackson, for instance, is Nick Bollettieri's latest discovery.

To its credit, the USTA has been spending millions on player development, finally beginning to match the considerable efforts of countries such as Germany and Spain.

But there still seem to be many differing views on exactly how those millions ought to be spent. Should more go toward combing inner-cities to find talents like the Williams sisters? Should more go toward polishing the games of young pros like Alex O'Brien, Goldstein and others?

"We've gone through some arid periods before and it looks like we're going through another one of them, at least with the men," commentator Bud Collins said. "The USTA has to figure this thing out."

Sunday ought to have been a wake-up call. When Russia's 20-year-old Marat Safin smoked Sampras in the final, there was much talk about the torch being passed. Where, the USTA should be asking itself, is our Safin? Our Lleyton Hewitt, the 19-year-old Australian who reached the semifinals?

He's probably out there. Question is, will the USTA find him?

THE FLIP SIDE OF LOSING: Sampras seemed to take his blowout loss surprisingly well Sunday. He didn't appear upset or depressed after admittedly getting "steamrolled" by Safin.

One reason could be the loss came with some good news. Just by reaching the final, Sampras jumped to No. 1 in the ATP Tour Champions Race standings released Monday. It's Sampras' first time in the top spot this season.

"I play for the Grand Slams now," Sampras said. "But being No. 1 at the end of the year would be a nice icing on the cake."

DID YOU KNOW?: Roddick dedicated his title to his late uncle who died after a long illness, and to a 16-year-old tournament volunteer in Michigan who was killed in a car crash days before the Open.

_ DARRELL FRY

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