[an error occurred while processing this directive]

Sports Central

[an error occurred while processing this directive]


Please Visit Our Sponsors
[an error occurred while processing this directive]

[an error occurred while processing this directive]

Calling The Shots - Edition #69

By George Soules
Thursday, May 23rd, 2002

Darkhorse Triumph at French?

The French Open kicks off at Roland Garros, on the outskirts of Paris, next Monday. Wish I could be there. The last time I made it was in 1961. My dad took me to see the pros in the days when the tennis game was divided into amateur and professional circuits. Some referred to the amateur side as "shamateurism" since the best amateurs, like Roy Emerson, the Australian who holds more Grand Slam championships (singles and doubles) than anyone, were able to live the life of kings scarfing up lucrative under-the-table appearance fees.

What I remember most about that tremulous (for me) spring afternoon, during which I witnessed some of the world's all-time greats take the court, was when Alex Olmedo, the 1959 Wimbledon and Australian champ, entered the stadium with about 20 rackets in his arms. My 11-year-old jaw dropped about a mile as the crowd reacted with a wild cheer of bemused appreciation.

Too bad they were the old wooden rackets, since Russia's Marat Safin, the No. 2 seed at this year's French Open, could need some of Alex's extras, given his penchant for hardware destruction.

Anyway, here are my prognostications for the second Grand Slam tennis tournament of the year. Feel free to send me your thoughts and predictions.

Lleyton Hewitt: Top-seeded on basis of ranking significantly bolstered by breakthrough U.S. Open triumph last fall. Since then, the 21-year-old Australian has been more a contender than a winner. He fell to Safin in the quarters of Hamburg a week ago, which was small surprise given his lackluster record on the European clay circuit this season. He won't win this year's French edition, even though he has the talent to do it. (Hewitt admits he's more comfortable on hardcourts.)

Marat Safin: What more can you say about the mercurial Russian who owns every shot in the book, is seemingly more powerful on court than Superman himself, let alone his peers on the ATP tour? Still left to be seen is if his brain can properly direct his prodigious talent. In January, the heavily favored Safin lost the Australian Open final, shockingly, to Sweden's Tomas Johannson. He'll be lucky to get to the semis this year at the French.

Tommy Haas: The German is still not a household name despite finishing second to Russia's Yevgeny Kafelnikov at the 2000 Olympics, and most recently to Andre Agassi in the Italian Open. And that's the point. Despite consistent results that have allowed Haas to be seeded No. 3 in this tournament, he has not come close to breaking through to win a major. Don't count on him to do it at Roland Garros, either.

Andre Agassi: This American icon has made more comebacks than Frank Sinatra and Michael Jordan combined. He won the Italian Open earlier this spring, in a compelling performance that erased a heart-breaking loss in the same final as a 19-year-old. But Agassi is now 32, and the three-out-of-five set French Open format over a two-week period undermines his bid to win the tourney for the second time after a lone victory in 1999. Still, at No. 4, a heavy betting favorite.

Yevgeny Kafelnikov: The other temperamental Russian won the French Open in 1996, beating Sampras in the semis, in what likely was Pete's best shot at winning the only Grand Slam to elude him. Now Kafelnikov is seriously contemplating retirement. Is a last hurrah in order for the No. 5 seed? Sorry, don't plan on a Shmirnoff party come June 9.

Tim Henman: The British hope has had bad luck for some time at Wimbledon, outside of London, losing in the semis three times. So does it get any better in the suburbs of Paris on a surface not to Tim's liking? Reaching the semis of Monte Carlo earlier this spring, where he bowed to clay court specialist Carlos Moya, surprised many. It helped Henman acquire the No. 6 seed in France, where he'll likely fail to reach the appointed round.

Gustavo Kuerten: Hard to believe that the Brazilian superstar, the three-time winner of this event, is seeded as low as No. 7, but a longstanding injury to his hip has caused this year's ranking slide. Can Guga return to form in time to win a fourth French? The odds are against it, but Kuerten is a proven champ, which helps a lot when the crunch comes.

Roger Federer: At No. 8, this up-and-coming Swiss star, who won last week's Hamburg Masters Series event convincingly over Safin, is obviously rated below his potential. The talent is there, and the all-around game suggests that he won't suffer an unexpected loss. But Federer's resume is still short, thus the doubts about how far he can go.

Darkhorses: You've got to like the chances of Spain's Carlos Moya (unseeded), back from a back injury, and another former champion (1998). Don't count out countryman Alex Corretja (seeded No. 18), who succumbed to Moya in that final and was game again against Kuerten in the decider last year. Juan Carlos Ferrero (No. 11), also from Spain, is seemingly not as strong as last year, but is another superlative clay court player who could sweep the championships. Then there is Pete Sampras (No. 12), who won the Italian Open in 1994, so is not so much the chump many depict him on clay. In fact, Sampras got to the final of the U.S. Clay Court Championships a couple of months ago, losing to Andy Roddick (No. 13).

Sampras and Roddick, despite their limitations, age on the one hand, and lack of experience on the other, could provide some stunning results.

And finally, another important factor is the luck of the draw, still to be announced...

Have something to say? Visit the message boards and discuss this article.

Comments? Agree? Disagree? Send in your feedback about this article.

     Back to Calling The Shots
     Back to Home

[an error occurred while processing this directive]
Interested in advertising with us?
More information.

[an error occurred while processing this directive]