Remember the famous “New balls please” campaign launched by the ATP back in 2000? Standing on the threshold of the new millennium, the tour feared losing its precious audience, for days seemed numbered for the then superstars -- Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi -- who had been dominating the 90s.
The ad -- featuring young blood determined to dethrone the existing icons -- offered a rosy, reassuring picture of future to the fans, apart from being an impetus for the upcoming talents. The tour couldn’t risk losing its precious audience, ergo, they decided to spice up the transitional phase, marketing the next-generation.
If you recall, the ad featured players like Tommy Haas, Roger Federer, Andy Roddick, Lleyton Hewitt, Marat Safin, Sebastian Grosjean, Juan Carlos Ferrero, Gustavo Kuerten,Jan-Michael Gambill, Nicolás Lapentti, Fernando González, etc.
The very year, Sampras felt the heat as a 20-year-old Marat Safin routed him at the US Open final in straight sets -- 6-4 6-3 6-3. The 29-year-old four-time champion’s legs were of no match against his young rival; a once ferocious lion was reduced to a meek cat that night, in showdown that did justice to the ‘new balls’ campaign.
Hewitt followed suit the next year, once again trouncing the American in straight sets -- 7-6 6-1 6-1.
While the people welcomed the change, all that seemed like a meteor flash. Hope soon turned to hype; neither Safin nor Hewitt went beyond two Slams; Roddick had to be satisfied with his sole US Open crown, and Kuerten’s laurels were limited to the red dirt.
But there was an exception -- Roger Federer.The poster boy had to wait three more years before he could win his first Major, and the rest is history. That vapid period after Sampras and before Federer, got pushed to the periphery once Federer, along with Rafael Nadal started dominating the scene.