Andre Agassi appeared in the stands to watch Jim Courier's gut-wrenching second-round victory at Wimbledon today. Courier said he loves having Pete Sampras as the latest addition to the U.S. Davis Cup team. Sampras praised Agassi as his "strongest competitor," revealing that he called to congratulate his old rival after Agassi won the French Open earlier this month.
"There's a lot of love in the air, huh?" Sampras asked after his own match, a 6-4, 6-2, 6-3 steamrolling of Canadian Sebastien Lareau. "I feel a lot of love. There's a lot of love in the locker room."
There was a time as recently as a few years ago that such displays of affection would be unthinkable, much less public. The American men who rocketed to stardom as a pack of teenagers more than a decade ago were hard-core adversaries, keeping separate camps and exchanging few pleasantries. But as their fortunes have varied and they have matured -- Sampras is 27 now, Courier is 28 and Agassi is 29 -- the edges have softened, producing a reunion of sorts as each finds success at the All England club.
Courier, who hadn't won more than two consecutive matches here since being the runner-up in 1993, has reached the elusive third round after battling his way past No. 12 seed Carlos Moya in a 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (7-1), 3-6, 6-2 dogfight. He joins seeds Venus Williams (6), Steffi Graf (2), Anna Kournikova (17) and Monica Seles (4), who took just 35 minutes to dismiss Germany's Marlene Weingartner, 6-0, 6-0, this afternoon.
American Jennifer Capriati, trying to make a comeback, was stopped by a 6-1, 6-3 loss to qualifier Seda Noorlander of the Netherlands, but Rockville native Paul Goldstein was able to win his match, upsetting No. 16 seed Felix Mantilla of Spain. The result sets him up for a third-round match against Canadian Daniel Nestor, matching his appearance in the third round of the Australian Open earlier this year.
"Last year on June 14th I graduated from Stanford, and if you had told me that I'd be in the third round of Wimbledon in a year, I'd say no way because I just wouldn't have believed it," said Goldstein, who guaranteed himself a spot in the rankings' top 100 with the result. "In the first two sets, I played about as well as I can play. I thought it was a fun match, with a lot of entertaining points."
The spectators on Court 3 seemed to agree, applauding appreciatively as Goldstein and Mantilla dived around the court after each available ball. While not projected as the same kind of talent as Agassi or Sampras, Goldstein, 22, certainly has captured some of the charisma of his predecessors, leading a pack of young American men that also includes Justin Gimelstob and Jan-Michael Gambill.
U.S. Tennis Association Coach Scott McCain "has really orchestrated a feeling from the U.S. players that we should be more of a team and have a little more of a team atmosphere, supporting each other," Goldstein said. "I feel like a lot of the Spaniards have been able to do that, be friendly and feed off each other's success, and the Swedes do that, too."
It's a warmth that seems to be spreading through the entire U.S. contingent. Among the older players, the gritty U.S. Davis Cup win over Britain in April seems to be responsible. With Agassi and Sampras opting not to play, Courier and Todd Martin were left as underdogs against Tim Henman and Greg Rusedski. The weekend came down to a marathon five-set match between Courier and Rusedski that Courier finally won, electrifying everyone involved and even a few people who weren't.
In Paris, Agassi dedicated his semifinal win to Courier, saying he had been moved to improve his own game after watching his old tennis academy roommate. Sampras, who had said he didn't want to play Davis Cup so he could focus on his individual goals, was so touched he changed his mind and volunteered to join the team when it plays in the second round against Australia in Brookline, Mass., next month. As a show of solidarity, he volunteered to play doubles, leaving the more glamorous singles matches to Courier and Martin.
"It definitely inspired me," Sampras said. "I took a step back, and definitely being on the outside looking in I saw it would have been cool to be a part of that."
Busy preparing for his own match, Sampras did not join Agassi in the stands today to watch Courier. Courier said he was thrilled to have Agassi in his cheering section, noting that he was "ecstatic" when Agassi won at Roland Garros two weeks ago.
"It's nice at this point that the American players are starting to feed off each other, which has been unusual until recently," Courier said. "I think it's the best thing that could happen for us, really, for everyone to kind of come together and take on all comers, so to speak.
"I think [Davis Cup] was an inspirational moment for all of us, but I also think it's coming at a time in our lives when we are all very comfortable with who we are, and there's not a lot of jealousy or envy any more. I think we've gotten past that part in our lives, and we can honestly root for each other and hope for the best for each other."
Wimbledon Notes: With close friend Martina Hingis already out of the country, Kournikova soldiered on alone today. Hingis, who was shocked by a loss to qualifier Jelena Dokic of Australia in the first round Tuesday, pulled out of her doubles partnership with Kournikova, saying she had plantar fascitis, which produces pain in the heel. Kournikova said she was disappointed not to play in the doubles but felt sympathy for Hingis.
"It's very unpleasant for anybody to lose in the first round, and especially of a Grand Slam," she said. "When you lose, it's disappointing. You feel like you lost everything, but I'm sure she'll come back and be very strong."
Graf received a brief scare when she dropped the first set, 4-6, to South African Mariaan de Swardt, but she came back to claim the final two sets and win, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2.
"I felt a little like a spectator, the way she was hitting those serves, but by the second set I had a much better sense of where they were going to," Graf said.
When: Through July 4.
Where: All England club, Wimbledon.
Defending champions: Pete Sampras, Jana Novotna.
Top seeds: Sampras, Martina Hingis.
Today's TV: 9 a.m., HBO.
Yesterday's results: Men -- Pete Sampras (1), United States, def. Sebastien Lareau, Canada, 6-4, 6-2, 6-3; Yevgeny Kafelnikov (3), Russia, def. Paradorn Srichaphan, Thailand, 6-7 (7-4), 6-4, 7-6 (7-4), 6-4; Mark Philippoussis (7), Australia, def. Mark Woodforde, Australia, 6-7 (7-4), 7-6 (8-6), 7-6 (7-5), 6-4; Greg Rusedski (9), Britain, def. Arvind Parmar, Britain, 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 (7-3); Jim Courier, United States, def. Carlos Moya (12), Spain, 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (7-1), 3-6, 6-2; Paul Goldstein, United States, def. Felix Mantilla (16), Spain, 6-2, 6-4, 6-7 (7-5), 6-2. Women -- Steffi Graf (2), Germany, def. Mariaan de Swardt, South Africa, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2; Monica Seles (4), United States, def. Marlene Weingartner, Germany, 6-0, 6-0; Venus Williams (6), United States, def. Elena Tatarkova, Ukraine, 6-3, 6-4; Amanda Coetzer (12), South Africa, def. Miho Saeki, Japan, 6-4, 6-1; Anna Kournikova (17), Russia, def. Maria Alejandra Vento, Venezuela, 7-5, 6-4; Seda Noorlander, Netherlands, def. Jennifer Capriati, United States, 6-1, 6-3.
Today's featured matches: Men -- Chris Woodruff, United States, vs. Tim Henman (6), Britain, comp. of susp. match; Nicolas Kiefer (15), Germany, vs. Boris Becker, Germany; Jonas Bjorkman, Sweden, vs. Patrick Rafter (2), Australia; Guillermo Canas, Argentina, vs. Andre Agassi (4), United States. Women -- Lindsay Davenport (3), United States, vs. Karina Habsudova, Slovakia; Sylvia Plischke, Austria, vs. Jana Novotna (5), Czech Republic; Lisa Raymond, United States, vs. Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario (7), Spain; Rita Grande, Italy, vs. Mary Pierce (9), France.
CAPTION: Rockville's Paul Goldstein moves to third round, into top 100, upsetting No. 16 Felix Mantilla, 6-2, 6-4, 6-7 (7-5), 6-2.
CAPTION: Jim Courier has plenty to be pumped about after topping No. 12 seed Carlos Moya in a second-round five-setter.