Gambill rolls the dice

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Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - It's probably no secret that American tennis aficionados have been less than impressed with the slow growth of Jan-Michael Gambill over the last couple of years. But the Spokane, Washington native could be ready to blossom this spring on the ATP.

If the name Jan-Michael looks familiar it's because his parents named Gambill (pronounced GAM-bull) after the one-time television and movie star Jan-Michael Vincent.

The typically low-keyed Gambill has been displaying a not-seen- before killer instinct in recent weeks.

Since bowing out against fellow American Chris Woodruff in the opening round of the Australian Open in January, Gambill has done no worse than the quarterfinals in his last five events.

Three weeks ago at the Citrix Tennis Championships, the 23-year- old staved off three match points in consecutive matches against Woodruff and Aussie Wayne Arthurs on his way to capturing a second career ATP title.

And proving that he was not content with only winning the singles trophy, Gambill paired with another up-and-coming American, Andy Roddick, to claim the top doubles prize later that Sunday afternoon in Delray Beach, Florida.

"I'm proud of the way I fought under the pressure," said Gambill of saving six match points over two days of action. "It's unbelievable. I thought: `How did I do that?' That's what makes a champion, and it's very exciting."

The 6-foot-3, 195-pound Gambill, who turned pro in 1996, lifted his first-ever trophy at the Franklin Templeton Tennis Classic in Scottsdale in 1999. With that victory in Arizona, Gambill became the last American to win an ATP title for the first time in his career.

And now, in the year 2001, with the help of his father/coach Chuck, Gambill has the taste of success on his lips once again. So much so, that he displayed another side to his character, much different from that one People Magazine voted one of the "50 Most Beautiful People in the World" last year, by smashing a racquet in Delray.

"I got a little feisty out there," he said. "That doesn't happen too often, but I think it helped me. I don't think it's a bad thing for tennis players to show emotion. It means a lot to us, and I want to win."

Gambill was one of three athletes on People's list, joining Baltimore Orioles pitcher Scott Erickson and figure skater Michelle Kwan.

Off the court, Gambill has a heart of gold. He helps pay for the upkeep of the "Cat Tales" Zoological Park in Colbert, Washington, and serves as the ATP Kids First chairman. He promised to donate $20 for every ace he records this year, with the ATP matching Gambill up to $10,000. "Cat Tales" provides shelter and care for endangered cats, including lions, tigers and jaguars.

Speaking of jaguars, Gambill collects Jaguar automobiles. And speaking of beautiful people, the ATP's equivalent to Anna Kournikova recently signed a contract with the world famous Ford Modeling Agency.

In addition, right after winning the title in Florida, Gambill donated $5,000 to his designated charity, the Boys and Girls of Spokane and the Washington Tennis Association, which he promised to do each time he wins a title this year. "It's nice to be able to do something like that so quickly," said Gambill.

And on the morning of the semifinals of his singles and doubles in Delray Beach, Gambill got up especially early to do a photo shoot for Sports Illustrated for Kids.

With the way he's performing thus far, it could he a highly rewarding season for the young American, who demonstrates a unique style of play with two-handed forehands and backhands, which has proven effective on the circuit. Gambill is also one of the game's best return of serve stars. "A year ago, I decided to take all first serve returns of the forehand side with one hand so that guys can't hurt me with a wide serve."

So far this season, Gambill has been the punisher, not the punishee. He is currently 12th in the Champions Race, where he placed 33rd in 2000. And with a solid 20-7 match record in the early going, Gambill stands to move up in the ranks with continued aggressive play.

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