Strings Attached

Rat pack? Six pack? Whatever. These young Americans are rivals on the court, buddies off it -- and they're bringing the fun back to men's tennis.

Updated: August 20, 2003, 9:22 PM ET
By By John Gustafson | ESPN The Magazine
Five freshly scrubbed tennis players climb out of the 90 sunshine and retreat to the shade of a courtside porch. It's early July, a day before the Miller Lite championships begin, and the group -- Brian Vahaly, Taylor Dent, James Blake, Mardy Fish and Robby Ginepri -- has gathered for a photo shoot at the Newport (R.I.) Casino, home to the International Tennis Hall of Fame. The Casino resembles a modest New England version of the All England Club. Outside on Bellevue Avenue, tourists flock to the sprawling "cottages" of 19th-century robber barons. Inside the grounds, weathered shingled buildings surround four grass courts lined with striped canopies and cherry red impatiens. The first U.S. National was held here in 1881, and today Newport hosts the only grass-court tournament in North America.

All of which makes this an unlikely hangout for our young turks. But make no mistake, they've earned the right to be here. Blake, Fish, Dent and Ginepri (his ear freshly pierced from a recent night out with girlfriend Minnie Driver) have taken root in the world top 100, joining Andy Roddick to form the most exciting group of Americans since the salad days of Sampras, Agassi, Courier and Chang.