U.S. Open men’s contenders
Pete Sampras (U.S.)
Age 27, Seeding 1
Grand Slam titles: 11 (Australian Open 1994, 1997; Wimbledon 1993 1994 1995 1997 1998; U.S. Open 1990, 1993, 1995, 1996)
Best U.S. Open showing – four-time champion
World number one Sampras can tie Australian Roy Emerson’s record of 12 Grand Slam singles titles by winning his fifth U.S. Open. Still considered by his peers to be the toughest opponent in the game, Sampras has had an uncharacteristicallyuneven year and is without a hardcourt title this summer. But he picked up his fifth Wimbledon crown in July and is in position to win two of the four Grand Slam titles for the fifth time in his career. In the 1990s Sampras has only once gone more than one year without winning the U.S. Open and he didn’t win it last year.
Marcelo Rios (Chile)
Age 22, Seeding 2
Grand Slam titles: 0
Best U.S. Open showing – quarter-finalist 1997
The extremely talented but volatile left-hander from Chile got off to a fantastic start in 1998 and reached his first Grand Slam final at the Australian Open, losing to Petr Korda. Winner of an ATP Tour-best five titles this year, including big back-to-back hardcourt wins at Indian Wells and the Lipton Championships. Rios has twice briefly held the number one ranking this year, but has not won a title since the clay court season in May and recently split with coach Larry Stefanki, who oversaw his rise into the sport’s upper echelon. Faces player who recently beat him in straight sets, Czech Daniel Vacek, in first round.
Patrick Rafter (Australia)
Age 25 Seeding 3
Grand Slam titles: 1 (U.S. Open 1997)
Best U.S. Open showing – champion 1997
Rafter makes his debut as a defending Grand Slam champion after surprising no one more than himself by making his first real title the U.S. Open crown last year.
After six runner-up finishes in 1997, Rafter has not lost a final in 1998. He has scooped up four titles, including consecutive Super 9 wins this summer in Toronto and Cincinnati, where he beat Sampras in the final. The charismatic Australian serve and volleyer is looking confident and relaxed and is arguably the hottest player on the Tour entering the Open.
Petr Korda (Czech Republic)
Age 30 Seeding 4
Grand Slam titles: 1 (Australian Open 1998)
Best U.S. Open showings – quarter-finalist 1997, 1995
Korda made his Grand Slam breakthrough at this year’s Australian Open at the ripe old tennis age of 30. Earlier this year, the unpredictable Czech left-hander was within striking distance of the number one ranking but never quite made the leap. Fine shot-making abilities are often undermined by suspect fitness, but Korda is right at home on the hardcourts and capable of making noise at the U.S. Open, where he stunned Sampras in the fourth round last year.
Andre Agassi (U.S.)
Age 28 Seeding 8
Grand Slam titles: 3 (Wimbledon 1992, U.S. Open 1994, Australian Open 1995)
Best U.S. Open showings – champion 1994, runner-up 1995, 1990
Agassi rededicated himself to the game this year after a dreadful 1997 and it has paid off in titles and ranking. The former number one and fan favorite is back in the top 10 after seeing his ranking plummet below 140 last year. He has an ATP Tour-best 50 match wins under his belt this year and four titles, including consecutive summer hardcourt wins in Washington and Los Angeles. He won the Open as an unseeded player in 1994 and lost to Sampras in the final the following year. Agassi’s recent play has been his best since, and he could be ready to return to the Grand Slam winner’s circle, although Sampras looms in his path in the quarter-finals.
Greg Rusedski (Britain)
Age 24 Seeding 6
Grand Slam titles: 0
Best U.S. Open showing – runner-up 1997
The 6-foot-4 (1.93 m) Canadian-born Briton, who will turn 25 during the tournament, rode his booming, record-breaking serve all the way to the final last year — a stunning achievement considering his first-round exits at the Open the previous three years. The big left-hander won a hardcourt event in Antwerp in February and lost a tough final to Rios at Indian Wells on the cement, but has not fared well in
the Grand Slams this year. After losing in the third round in Australia, Rusedski went out in the first round at the French Open and an ankle injury took him out of Wimbledon in the opening round. Rusedski returns to the scene of his amazing run armed with a healed ankle and a new coach, but faces a tough first-round opponent in South African Wayne Ferreira.