Mary & The Sisters Practise Saturday In Paris
Pierce Trades Shots With Agassi
By HOWARD FENDRICH
AP Tennis Writer
Published May 25, 2002, 2:45 PM EDT
PARIS -- Andre Agassi squared off against Mary Pierce at Roland Garros on Saturday. Well, not exactly.
When their on-court training times overlapped, the pair of past French Open champions -- he in 1999, she in 2000 -- swapped kisses on both cheeks before swapping groundstrokes for about five minutes.
Pierce had just completed an hour on court with Kim Clijsters and slugged the ball about as hard as the all-black-clad Agassi did. He used the time to warm up ahead of a practice session with Ivan Ljubicic.
While the No. 4-seeded Agassi has won 24 of 27 matches and three titles this year, Pierce has struggled coming back from shoulder and back injuries.
She wasn't able to defend her French Open title last year, nor did she enter Wimbledon or the U.S. Open. Then she quit during her first-round match at the Australian Open in January after straining abdominal muscles.
Pierce, a wild-card entry into the main draw, will play Irina Selyutina of Kazakstan in the first round here. Her third-round opponent could be fifth-seeded Justine Henin, a semifinalist last year.
"I'd like to be coming into this tournament without injuries, or with my game where it was two years ago," Pierce said Saturday. "My game, my mental fitness, my physical fitness -- they're not the same."
Her ranking has dropped to No. 128 from a career-best No. 3 after winning the French Open (she also was that high after winning the '95 Australian Open). She's 8-7 in matches this year; her latest was a 6-0, 6-0 loss to Jennifer Capriati in the third round of the Italian Open.
Pierce, who paused a few times during her time hitting with Clijsters to stretch her back, is sure she'll be able to get her tennis closer to where it was.
"I always believe in myself," she said. "I'm feeling so much better each time on the court."
SEPARATE SISTERS:@ Venus and Serena Williams practiced for about two hours Saturday, and neither showed any effects from recent injuries.
They would love to be on that court together again in two weeks, when the French Open women's final is played there.
"We're on different sides (of the draw). That's the only thing I care about," said Serena, who's seeded No. 3, one spot lower than her older sister. "I don't care who I play or whatever. Hopefully, we both do well. We'll see."
She won their most recent meeting 6-2, 6-2 in the semifinals at Key Biscayne, Fla., in March, and is 2-5 against Venus. As it invariably happens when they play, the action wasn't scintillating.
At last year's U.S. Open, when they became the first sisters to play for a Grand Slam tournament title in more than a century, Venus prevailed 6-2, 6-4.
With about a dozen people watching Saturday, though, they looked like true Sisters Sledgehammer. Venus would end a 10-stroke rally with an unreachable crosscourt backhand to the corner, and Serena -- wearing yellow socks pulled to her knees -- would end the following exchange with a searing forehand down the line.
Both have had trouble on clay, including Venus' first-round loss to Barbara Schett at the 2001 French Open.
But Serena won last week's Italian Open for her first title on the surface, beating Jennifer Capriati for the fourth straight time in the semifinals and Justine Henin in the final despite tweaking the leg injury that kept her out of the Australian Open.
The week before Rome, Serena lost to Henin in the final at Berlin.
"I've always been really prepared for this event. And this year I have a clay-court tournament win under my belt," said Serena, who has won three titles and is 22-3 in 2002. "It's a new week, and I have to make sure I'm ready again."
Venus pulled out of the Italian Open, saying she injured her right wrist picking up her bag at practice. At her previous event, on clay in Hamburg, she reached the final.
Serena captured the family's first Grand Slam championship at the 1999 U.S. Open, but now trails Big Sis 4-1 in major titles.
"The difference now is that I'm really more focused. I'm a little older. I'm only 20, but it's a big difference," Serena said. "I just want to win more than I have in the past."
SELES SPEAKS:@ Monica Seles drew attention for more than her game at the Madrid Open, where she won the title by beating Chandra Rubin 6-4, 6-2 Saturday.
After winning her first match at the clay-court tournament, the 28-year-old Seles was asked if she's thought about retiring. Her answer was a bit vague.
"It could be tomorrow, (or) after Roland Garros, or in 10 years," she said. "I'm still motivated. But if tomorrow I wake up and I lose it, then I will retire."
Later, after the victory over Rubin, Seles said, "It's been said that I was thinking about retiring this season. It was said after the Australian Open and it will be said again after Roland Garros. But I will keep playing as long as I enjoy myself on the courts. Maybe I'll stop this year, maybe not."
She enters her 10th French Open, where she's seeded sixth and will face Angeles Montolo of Spain in the first round, with a 50-6 record at Roland Garros. That includes titles from 1990-92, and a runner-up finish in '98 -- her last Grand Slam final.
Seles withdrew from the French Open last year with a foot injury.
Copyright © 2002, The Associated Press