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post #1 of 191 (permalink) Old May 21st, 2003, 02:16 PM Thread Starter
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French Open 2003

[IMG]Serena remain top favorite at Roland Garros [/IMG]

By Richard Pagliaro
May 21 2003
Tennis Week

Serena Williams will begin this year's French Open the same way she ended last year's tournament — on top. The reigning Roland Garros champion has been named the top seed in the woman's draw.

Serena remains the favorite to claim her fifth straight Slam title. Despite the fact both of her losses have come on clay this year — she was beaten by Belgian Justine Henin-Hardenne in the Family Circle Cup final and was two points from victory before succumbing to Amelie Mauresmo in the Rome semifinals on Saturday — don't bet against Williams making another victory speech in French this year. Throughout the past year, Williams has combined her champion's heart with a fighter's mentality that makes her even more dangerous coming off a loss. Clay may be her least favorite surface, but her awesome all-court arsenal, sensational speed and deep desire to succeed make it likely Williams will be unveiling a Mona Lisa smile to accompany another title trophy by tournament's end.

If Williams proves vulnerable the two players who may have the best shot to dethrone the defending champion are Belgians Justine Henin-Hardenne and Kim Clijsters. By virtue of her second seed, Clijsters can avoid a possible Serena showdown until the final. The 2001 tournament runner-up is coming off a victory in Rome and Clijsters' consistency, toughness and tenacity make her a title threat.

As the first player to beat Williams this year, the fourth-seeded Henin-Hardenne showed the ability to both attack intelligently and defend defiantly in the face of Williams' power. With an impressively improved serve and forehand, the Belgian with the beautiful backhand should advance to at least the semifinals should she play to her ability. Henin-Hardenne will be intent on improving on her illness-induced first-round exit last year.

Striving to meet the expectations of French fans, fifth-seeded French woman Amelie Mauresmo has hardly felt at home at Roland Garros. She has turned in her least successful Slam efforts at Roland Garros, falling in the first or second round in six of her eight career appearances. Looking almost paralyzed at times in striving to live up to the the pressure as France's best hope for the title, Mauresmo needs to relax, focus and play the type of tennis that has enabled her to reach the Australian Open final and the semis at both Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.

A pair of former French Open champions — Monica Seles and Jennifer Capriati — could enjoy varying degrees of success. The 2001 Roland Garros champion, Capriati is seeded seventh. Throughout the spring, she's shown signs she can elevate her game, but fitness remains a question mark as Capriati has shown signs of fatigue against top players this year.

Three-time French Open champion Seles is the 12th seed and while this fierce fighter and fan favorite cannot be counted out, she is hobbled by a recurring strained right arch, which further diminishes her already limited movement.

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post #2 of 191 (permalink) Old May 27th, 2003, 01:07 PM Thread Starter
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Williames' reign is being challenged
By Helene Bonnard
Special to WTAFANS.COM

Do you believe what Richard Williamd said about her magnificent daughters. In Charleston, There's finally hope for the rest of women's tennis, and not all because of Justine Henin-Hardenne's upset of Serena Williams in the Family Circle Cup final.

"So women's tennis is getting boring. And you know why? Because two lovely black women dominate it.

"They're better than the white girls and that's intolerable. It's downgrading, lamentable," he said.

According to Williams, his daughters are talented enough to take a break from tennis and still dominate upon their return.

"I would like them to stop playing today, for Serena to study and for Venus to launch herself into business," Williams said.

The father said he is unimpressed with the level of competition on the women's circuit and in the junior ranks.

"If I was in their place, I would take a break for one or two years," Williams said. "I would do some sailing, some ice skating, and I would come back unranked, just so I could become No. 1 within five or six months."

However, In Warsaw, Venus Williams suffered from stomach injury and defaulting to Amelie Mauresmo in Sunday's Warsaw final, Venus Williams overtook Kim Clijsters in the WTA Tour's world rankings as the two traded the second and third slots again. Clijsters had slipped past Venus in the April 14 rankings to trail only top-ranked Serena Williams.

In Rome, Mauresmo defeated America's world number one 1-6, 7-5, 6-3 for her first win in six attempts against the 21-year-old.

Serena Williams, who defends her French Open title at Roland Garros later this month, said her poor serving was the root cause of a surprise defeat.

"I made too many errors, most of all on my service games," she said.

"It's difficult to win when you are not getting a high percentage of first serves in.

"But you have to give Amelie credit because she never gave in. She had an excellent match.

"I'm upset because I like to win, but it's not the end of the world."

"There was nothing in particular she did. When I lose a match it's usually because of how I played. In the end it's better to lose in Rome than in Paris."

What's happen, Williamses' chance to win at Roland Garros will be pretty tough, comparing to last year. There are unbelievable players : Kim Clijsters, Justine Henin-Hardernne, and Amelia Mauresmo. Can they resist those girls to retain her crown.

Three cheers for battling Belgian

Kim Clijsters picked up her third title of the season yesterday by defeating France`s Amelie Mauresmo 3-6 7-6 (7-3) 6-0 in the final of the Italian Open.

Mauresmo, who beat Jennifer Capriati and Serena Williams to reach the championship game, served for the match at 6-5 in the second set but Clijsters stormed back from 30-15 down to force a tie-break.

She won that easily and then coasted through the final set as Mauresmo, who also finished runner-up in 2000 and 2001, struggled to regain her momentum.

Clijsters has also claimed the titles in Sydney and Indian Wells this season and appears to be in good form in the run-up to the French Open, which gets underway on May 26.

Clijsters remains second in the WTA world rankings and is in good shape ahead of Roland Garros, although she is finding her success hard to take in.

"I like seeing my name at number two.

"If I can go to number one, it would be an unbelievable feeling.

"If not I would still be happy and it would be something I could tell my kids about."

She became the first Belgian victor of the event, and Belgian firsts are becoming something of a frequent occurrence on the WTA circuit, with her own success and that of world number four Justine Henin-Hardenne.

"It's always nice to have that part of history for Belgium. I hope there can be many more (titles) for Justine and myself because she was very close too last year.

"(It) doesn't matter if it's for Justine or for me, I think it would be great for both of us if we can win this event many more times."

Defeated Mauresmo admitted she was exhausted by her week's exertions.

"In the second set it was getting very difficult for me physically," she said.

"She had an easier match than me yesterday and it's good for her.

"You've got to give her credit to stay in the match and finally win it."

Different in stamina

The result ended an impressive run by Mauresmo, who had claimed the scalps of fifth seed Jennifer Capriati and world No 1 Serena Williams on her way to the final, and added to tournament wins in Sydney and Indian Wells for the 19-year-old Clijsters.

Fourth seed Mauresmo started perfectly, dragging her Belgian opponent round the court with heavy groundstrokes. In the sixth game the Frenchwoman seized her chance to break, flicking a forehand past Clijsters at the net to go 4-2 up before wrapping up the first set in 32 minutes.

The Belgian twice recovered from a break down in the second set, coming back from 30-15 down as Mauresmo served for the match at 6-5 up to force a tiebreak, which she won easily.

After a short break because of the heat, the players returned but Mauresmo appeared to be tiring as her game unravelled, allowing Clijsters to break in the first, third and fifth games to race through the decider.

The result was a blow for Mauresmo, who had already been runner-up in Rome twice, in 2000 and 2001.

"What can I say? Yeah, of course it's disappointing. I felt I could win the match," Mauresmo said.

"I was pushing, pushing, pushing, so it wasn't a surprise to me that suddenly I didn't have any energy (at the beginning of the third set).

"I knew it was going to be tough. She had an easier (semi-final) match yesterday but that's tennis.

"I took every opportunity I had. I don't regret anything. You've got to give her credit for staying in the match and winning it."

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post #3 of 191 (permalink) Old May 27th, 2003, 01:09 PM Thread Starter
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Serena Williams: the player to beat

By Sandra Harwitt

Serena Williams

Venus Williams

Kim Clijsters

Justine Henin-Hardenne

Amelie Mauresmo

Jennifer Capriati

Lindsay Davenport
Susan Mullane/
Camerawork USA
Siggi Bucher
Ron Cioffi/
There are those who might say that Serena Williams went from the "Serena Slam" to the "Serena Slump" having lost two recent matches she played.

But no one should look at these defeats – a semifinal loss to Amelie Mauresmo at the Italian Open last week and a final loss to Justine Henin–Hardenne at the Family Circle Cup last month – as any major signal that the world No. 1 is losing her hold over the tour.

While the Mauresmo and Henin slip ups can't be ignored, especially since they are both Top 10 players and have the capability to take advantage of Serena on an off day, it would prove foolish to suggest the best in the business is showing serious vulnerability.

Serena has not only won the last four Grand Slams played – the '02 French Open, Wimbledon, US Open and the '03 Australian Open – she is 26-2 on the season which is way too impressive. And that's just the weighty results on paper, which doesn't take into account that most of the players are of the opinion that Serena is pretty much unbeatable except for an occasional hiccup.

Williams was quick to take the blame when she succumbed to Mauresmo, but she also was quick to put the match in perspective.

"Everything went wrong for me," Williams said in Rome. "I was making too many errors and struggling with my serve. I guess that sums it up. You can't win a match with a second serve. There was nothing in particular she did. When I lose a match, it's usually because of how I played. In the end, it's better to lose in Rome than in Paris."

Therein lies the truth – although Williams set about the goal of winning every match she was to play this year, once that opportunity fell by the wayside, she started to worry about winning the most important matches and enjoying any other victories that might come along for the ride.

Williams is a defending champion that will be hard to force out of the limelight in Paris; she is every inch a top flight star and she is going to be much more careful not to play sloppy tennis at the French than at Rome. These days, even if Serena has a letdown, she usually knows how to bear down and escape unscathed in the end, especially when Grand Slam trophies are at stake. She had moments at the Australian Open when she could have given in to pesky opponents, but she buckled down and bounded ahead.

As for the confidence department, it is impossible to say that Serena's older sister, Venus, is in the same position as her sibling. Venus not only knows she's vulnerable against Serena every time they play, but she shows vulnerability against some of the other top competitors as well. For the season, Venus is 1-3 in finals, losing to Serena at the Australian Open and Mauresmo at Warsaw, but taking the kudos over Kim Clijsters at Antwerp.

The rap on Venus is not only that she doesn't feel she's in control of every situation, but with her height she's failed to develop a masterful and reliable second serve and this is a serious flaw. These days, her first serve is not standing firm which makes a solid second serve even more critical.

If Venus can get her head and heart around tennis again, she is certainly capable of successfully challenging everyone out there besides for Serena, and could also be in shape to take a big bite out of Serena's glory as well. But with attention taken away for her V Starr Interiors design firm, Venus might not be concentrating just on tennis with business matters also a concern.

Last month, Clijsters shoved Venus back into third place and secured her highest career ranking by slipping into the second slot. On Sunday, as the French Open looms only a week away, Clijsters solidified her strength as a potential Roland Garros champion with a 3-6, 7-6 (7-3), 6-0 win over Mauresmo at the Italian Open.

Clijsters, who's won three titles this year – Sydney, Indian Wells and Rome – has the goods to go far in Paris. In 2001, she reached her only Grand Slam final at Roland Garros and played neck-and-neck tennis with eventual champion Jennifer Capriati in the final until the American finally captured a 12-10 third set to take the title.

The problem with the talented Clijsters is that while she does possess a competitive spirit it comes with limitations. Attaining high rankings and winning major titles would be something she enjoys, but doing so is far from a life-and-death matter for the teen. As recently as after her win in Rome, Clijsters, once again, made reference to the fact that being the best or winning the most prominent titles are not a necessity for her happiness, saying, "None have been a major goal of mine. I like seeing my name at No. 2 and thinking it doesn't seem real. It's a weird feeling, I think. I just want to enjoy being on the court and then we'll see if I can keep up the results. If I can go to No. 1, it would be an unbelievable feeling. If not, I would still be happy and it would be something I could tell my kids about."

Clearly, Clijsters subscribes to a different theory then boyfriend Lleyton Hewitt, who just surrendered his No. 1 ranking to Andre Agassi and is now situated at No. 2. Hewitt not only plays every match as if it was a matter of life and death, but he seems to make constant waves and to be constantly political fighting battles at every turn.

Justine Henin-Hardenne
Clijsters' compatriot, Justine Henin-Hardenne, a former semifinalist at the French, is certainly capable of making her first Grand Slam stand in Paris. Henin has had a good showing during the clay court season as the only player to win two titles on the dirt – The Family Circle Cup and the German Open. Her exquisite one-handed backhand – a vision of beauty as it sails down the line – is an admirable weapon and her enjoyment at approaching the net is a style not often seen in the women's game these days, especially on a clay court. Henin as well as Clijsters are two of the few players that could challenge Serena Williams for the title.

Mauresmo has the qualifications to win a Roland Garros title as well, but her ability to handle an overly enthusiastic Parisian crowd that would love nothing more than a homegrown champion, continues to come under question. If Mauresmo is healthy – always a question to be raised with the injury prone Frenchwoman – she could be the player to bring great delight to French fans in hopes of a French champion. But, thus far, the pressure has proven too much for Mauresmo, who in eight appearances at Roland Garros was a first round loser three times, a second round loser three times, and reached the fourth round in '00 and '02.

Jennifer Capriati
Capriati knows how to win at Roland Garros – she did so in 2001 – but these days she doesn't brim with confidence. For Capriati, an aggressive baseliner, a big sigh of relief would come if Mauresmo is not sitting on her side of the draw since she seems unable to puzzle out a win against the Frenchwoman. The inability to conquer Mauresmo kept Capriati from even having a chance to face either of the two Williams sisters at Wimbledon and the US Open last year. Capriati seems to have returned to a time where she rarely showed signs of happiness and rarely won tournaments. Unless she can recoup that lighthearted approach to life she briefly experienced during the time she won the French Open as well as the '01 and '02 Australian Open, it's questionable as to whether there's another Grand Slam trophy in Capriati's future.

Lindsay Davenport
The recently married Lindsay Davenport seems to have found her way back from a serious knee injury and become a major factor in the game again. Nevertheless, Davenport is a player with a big game that never seemed to translate well to the terre battue. A three-time Grand Slam champion, Davenport's best showing in Paris was making the semifinals in 1998 and it would be difficult to see her making headway towards the title in 2003.

Other players to keep a watchful eye out for at Roland Garros are Elena Dementieva, who won her first career title at the Bausch & Lomb Championships; Daniela Hantuchova, Chanda Rubin, Jelena Dokic and Anastasia Myskina.

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post #4 of 191 (permalink) Old May 27th, 2003, 01:10 PM Thread Starter
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'Never satisfied'

Serena seeks second consecutive French Open title
Posted: Thursday May 22, 2003 9:19 PM

LONDON, May 23 (Reuters) -- She has already bagged the "Serena Slam" and is undisputedly the world's best woman player but Serena Williams' appetite for success remains insatiable.

When the fashion-savvy Serena struts onto the French Open stage next week, one thing is certain -- she will be aiming to cement her place among the tennis greats even more firmly.

Twelve months ago, Serena arrived in Paris with a suspect clay-court game and in the shadow of her elder sister Venus -- who was then the holder of the Wimbledon and U.S. Open titles.

But after toiling away on the slow red clay for two weeks, Serena was crowned Roland Garros champion, launching her bid for tennis immortality.

"I am insatiable, I am never where I want to be, never satisfied," said Serena, who went on to sweep the next three Grand Slam titles to become only the fifth woman to hold all four trophies at once.

"All my life I have dreamed of being the best and doing the best. It hasn't always been easy for me and it is just so special the fact that I am making history right now."

While Serena was ecstatic with her achievement after triumphing at the Australian Open in January, her main target is to complete the more prestigious calendar-year Grand Slam and join Maureen Connolly, Margaret Court and Steffi Graf in that exclusive club.

Having failed in her bid to stay unbeaten all season -- she has lost twice this year -- the American will be determined not to fall short of her other goal for 2003.

Among those hoping to end Serena's winning run will be Venus, world No. 2 Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin-Hardenne.

Beaten by Serena in each of the past four slam finals, Venus' photogenic smile has remained in place for the cameras, but her patience must be wearing thin.

Hungry to create history herself, Venus has had to make do with the unwanted tag of becoming the first woman to lose four successive Grand Slam title matches after her defeat in Melbourne Park.

Frustrated that her last major success was at the U.S. Open in 2001, Venus has been plotting her sisterly revenge.

"These are major championships at stake. This is history, a career. I don't want to be the player that won [just] four Grand Slams," said Venus, who has won Wimbledon and the U.S. Open twice but has yet to triumph at the French or Australian.

"Serena's won all four Grand Slams, and that's something I sure would love to do one day.

"When you lose, you are more motivated. I have experience ... and I'm going to fight."

Not only has Venus had to deal with finishing second best to Serena, who grabbed the world No. 1 ranking from her sister last July, but she has recently also lost ground to Clijsters.

The Belgian broke the Williams' stranglehold on top of the rankings by leapfrogging Venus into second place.

Clijsters desperately wants to improve on her 2001 final showing, where she agonizingly lost the marathon match 12-10 in the third set to Jennifer Capriati.

Both Clijsters and her compatriot Henin-Hardenne have worked on their speed and fitness over the past year to counter the brute power of their bigger rivals.

While Clijsters beat Serena at last year's season-ending WTA Championships, Henin-Hardenne handed the world No. 1 her first defeat of 2003 in the Charleston final six weeks ago.

Although the duo have the ability and the weapons to claim their first Grand Slam crown, they have yet to chalk up a win over the Williamses at any of the four major tournaments.

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Opposites Attract: Williams Sisters Could Meet In French Open Final Again

Photo By Susan Mullane By Richard Pagliaro

The shots Venus Williams directed at younger sister Serena came in shutter-speed succession, encompassed all angles and were precisely positioned. It was moments after Serena scored a 7-5, 6-3 victory over Venus to claim the 2002 Roland Garros championship when Venus popped to the front of the pack of awaiting photographers to snap victory photos of her sister proudly posing with the title trophy in hand.

It was a Kodak moment between the sisters who have turned the last four Grand Slam finals into family photo-ops. The 2003 Roland Garros draw was released today and it presents the potential for another Grand Slam final meeting for the sisters who have been a picture of perseverance in majors. But look closely at the picture again, focus on those figures in the background and and you may see a Williams sisters final is not a foregone conclusion. Serena is a strong favorite to return to the final, but inactivity may make Venus vulnerable to an earlier upset.

Both of top-seeded Serena Williams' losses this season have come on clay and the two players who beat her — Justine Henin-Hardenne and Amelie Mauresmo — are both in Serena's top half of the draw.

Some players have hinted that Williams may be most susceptible to an upset on clay, but given the fact she is the most complete player in the game, arrives in Paris with a 28-match winning streak in Slams and has consistently come back from defeats with a vengeance, you get the feeling you could could cover Serena's side of the court in white-hot coal and she'd still find a way to win.

The top seed opens against Germany's Barbara Rittner and would face her first seeded-player in a potential third-round match against 2002 semifinalist Clarisa Fernandez, assuming the 28th-seeded Argentine beats former French Open champ Mary Pierce in her first-round meeting. Williams would play either fifth-seeded French woman Mauresmo or ninth-seeded Daniela Hantuchova in the quarterfinals. Hantuchova plays Russia's Alina Jidkova in the first round, while Mauresmo meets fellow French woman Virginie Razzano in her opening match.

Though her game may be more varied than nearly any other top 10 player, Mauresmo has failed to flourish at the French where she's been bounced out of the tournament in the first or second round in six of her eight appearances. Playing with more mental toughness in recent weeks, Mauresmo should equal or surpass her 2002 fourth-round finish.

Two points from defeat, Mauresmo rallied to score her first career victory over Serena in the Rome semifinals last Saturday, but don't count on her repeating the feat against a fit and focused Serena, whose losses often light the fuse that lead to her most explosive play.

Illness contributed to Henin-Hardenne's first-round exact from Paris last year. This year, opponents have found that beating Henin-Hardenne on clay has been as easy as trying to stop the spread of athlete's foot with a placebo. The fourth-seeded Belgian should have little trouble with Austria's Patricia Wartusch in the first-round and could eventually play either 19th-seeded Swiss Patty Schnyder or 14th-seeded Eleni Daniilidou in the fourth round. Eighth-seeded Chanda Rubin, a two-time Roland Garros quarterfinalist, could play Henin-Hardenne in the quarterfinals.

In her victory over Serena in the Family Circle Cup final, Henin-Hardenne astutely altered the spins and speeds of her shots to prevent Williams from regaining the rhythm she showed against Lindsay Davenport in the semis. Henin-Hardenne held her serve effectively and held her nerve throughout the match. She has the game to beat Williams, but in order to conquer the defending champion she needs cooperation from Williams.

The architect of the Serena Slam can struggle through streaks of patchy play when she's off and contribute unforced errors to an opponent's cause. But Serena's best beats Henin-Hardenne's best regardless of surface. It's not enough for Henin-Hardenne to play good tennis, she has to hope for Williams to be slightly off, which is certainly possible, in order to win. But let's be honest: beating Serena in a Grand Slam when she's playing her game is as easy as a sprinter trying to hurdle the Eiffel Tower — you're bound to fall.

The biggest beneficiary of draw may well be Kim Clijsters. The second-seeded Belgian, who was two points from taking home the 2001 title only to see Jennifer Capriati fight back for a 1-6, 6-4, 12-10 triumph — will play American Amy Frazier in the first round. Clijsters' quarter of the draw features three other seeds — 15th-seeded Magdalena Maleeva, 20th-seeded Elena Bovina and 30th-seeded Paola Suarez — who can all be competent competitors, but none of them should cause Clijsters much concern en route to a potential quarterfinal against sixth-seeded Lindsay Davenport.

A 1998 French Open semifinalist, Davenport will make her first French Open appearance in three years. At times, it appears Davenport's favorite thing about the French Open is leaving it and looking forward to Wimbledon.

Essentially, Davenport makes virtually no major adjustments to her game on clay, but when she's striking the ball with conviction she's so powerfully precise she can get win anyway. Her fitness is dramatically improved and Davenport produced some positive results on Har-tru making her a threat if the court is playing dry and fast. But damp, soggy, slow conditions could spell doom for Davenport, who's in the same quarter of the draw as former French Open finalist Conchita Martinez.

Assuming the seeds hold, Clijsters would advance to the semifinals to play either third-seeded Venus Williams or seventh-seeded Jennifer Capriati. Following her shocking setback in the first round of the Australian Open in January, Capriati should be hungry for victory in Paris. When tennis' top 10 rebel has a cause, she always plays with more passion and purpose. Seeking her first tournament title since the 2002 Australian Open, Capriati certainly has something to prove and a a game conducive to clay.

In the opening round, Capriati meets South African Joanette Kruger followed by a possible second-round match with France's Marion Bartoli, who grew up idolizing Monica Seles, and tries to emulate the three-time French Open champion's habit of standing inside the baseline to return serve. Seles herself could play Capriati in the fourth round and while she's enjoyed great success against her former teenage foe, Seles' chronically right arch severely limits her chances of sustaining success over the course of a two-week tournament.

Venus Williams may be the biggest unknown in the tournament. Talented enough to win it if she's playing well, the fact that the third seed has not played a match since retiring with the strained stomach muscle while trailing Mauresmo 6-7(6), 6-0, 3-0 in the final of the J&S Cup on May 4th makes Venus vulnerable.

Williams will play a qualifier in the first round and should move comfortably into the fourth round. If rising Russian Vera Zvonareva is able to beat compatriot Elena Dementieva to set up a fourth-round clash with Williams, don't count the 22nd-seeded Zvonareva out. She took a set off Serena at the same stage of the 2002 Roland Garros and is a fearless player who may lack the weapons to beat Venus, but is a confident player who would take the court believing she can win.

A Venus vs. Capriati quarterfinal could provide some exciting clay-court tennis in a battle between former No. 1 players. Capriati has never beaten Venus, but with the clay-court slightly slowing Venus' vastly superior first serve, Capriati would have her best shot on clay. Clijsters figures to meet the winner of that match in the semifinals.

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Serena, Venus on opposite sides
Associated Press

PARIS -- The streak of Sister Slams could be extended at the French Open.

The rankings no longer guarantee that Serena and Venus Williams will play each other only in the final of a tournament, but the draw at Roland Garros put them on opposite sides of the field Friday.

Serena beat Venus to win last year's French Open, a result they duplicated at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in 2002, and again at the Australian Open in January.

That made them the first two women in Grand Slam history -- siblings or otherwise -- to meet in four consecutive finals.

The sisters were ranked Nos. 1 and 2 from June 2002 through April, and therefore they couldn't meet earlier than a championship match anywhere. But with Venus now third, she could have been placed in top-ranked Serena's half of the bracket at the French Open, where play starts Monday.

Instead, Serena's potential semifinal opponent is fourth-ranked Justine Henin-Hardenne of Belgium. Venus could have a final four matchup against No. 2 Kim Clijsters, another Belgian and the 2001 French Open runner-up.

The women's quarterfinals might be Venus Williams vs. 2001 champion Jennifer Capriati, Serena Williams vs. Amelie Mauresmo, Clijsters vs. Lindsay Davenport, and Henin-Hardenne vs. Chanda Rubin.

"There's definitely a lot of competition out there. You have Clijsters and Davenport and, obviously, Venus. There's just a lot of players out there that you have to look out for,'' Serena said. "I don't necessarily think of these particular people, I just focus on who I'm playing in the first round.''

That would be Barbara Rittner, who has lost five straight matches and is ranked 87th in the world.

Venus will start against a qualifier and doesn't appear to have a tough match until maybe meeting 13th-seeded Elena Dementieva in the fourth round. That could allow Venus to get back in match shape; she hasn't played since hurting an abdominal muscle May 4.

One player who didn't pay much attention to Friday's ceremony was Andre Agassi. The 1999 French Open champion's first-round opponent is Karol Beck, a Slovak who never has appeared in the clay-court Grand Slam. He finished last year ranked 125th.

"I don't know much about him. I guess I'll have to do some asking around and find out from other players,'' Agassi said. "I never really look at the draw. I just play it day by day.''

Glancing ahead, his quarterfinal opponent could be Guillermo Coria, who Agassi practiced with while the draw was taking place at the opposite end of Roland Garros. Other possible men's quarterfinals: top-seeded Lleyton Hewitt vs. David Nalbandian in what would be a rematch of last year's Wimbledon final, 2002 French Open runner-up Juan Carlos Ferrero vs. Andy Roddick, and 1998 champion Carlos Moya vs. Roger Federer.

Hewitt opens against Brian Vahaly, an American making his Paris debut. The Australian's road looks particularly tough after that, with three-time French Open champion Gustavo Kuerten, defending champ Albert Costa and clay-court experts Agustin Calleri and Gaston Gaudio all potential opponents.

The Williams sisters, meanwhile, can thank Michael Chang for keeping them apart in the women's field.

The 1989 French Open champion, playing for the final time in Paris, was given the honor of conducting the actual draw Friday, pulling numbers assigned to each player from the tournament's silver trophies.

"Hopefully people won't complain about their first-round matches,'' he said, joking.

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Building a better bracket
By Lindsay Berra
ESPN The Magazine

When Belgian Kim Clijsters bullied her way into the No. 2 spot in the world rankings, driving a wedge between Serena and Venus Williams, everyone thought she'd killed an all-Williams final at the French. Finally, at Nos. 1 and 3, the Williams sisters would be forced to the same side of the draw. One would have to get through the other to end up in a final, and the days of the all-Williams championship matches would be over. Well, that just ain't so.

Check out the seedings for the French Open. They're the same as the current world rankings, with Serena at No. 1, Clijsters at No. 2, Venus at No. 3, and Belgian Justine Henin-Hardenne at No. 4. Logic would say that Serena and Venus would be on the same side of the draw, and that Kim and Justine would be on the other.

Well, who ever said logic had anything to do with it?

The top two seeds are automatically separated, with No. 1 placed in the top half of the draw and No. 2 in the bottom. After that, Nos. 3 and 4 are drawn out of a hat -- first one out goes in the top half, second one out goes in the bottom half. The process is repeated for seeds 5-8, then 9-12, then 13-16, then 17-24, then 25-32 and so on through 128 in the case of the French.

Seedings are designed to give the top player an advantage, to keep them from playing other top players until the late rounds of the tournament so the most exiting matches are saved for last. The idea of a random drawing is used so that the match-ups are not the same for every event. But, in this case, the system backfired, and the French Open is set to allow another Serena against Venus final (barring, of course, a defeat in the earlier rounds).

Is there a better way to do this? Who knows. Sticking simply to the draw would be monotonous after a while, unless there was a lot of player movement in the top 25. (Though, shouldn't a player benefit from a hard-won rank?) Seeding like the NCAA tournament, where No. 1 plays No. 16, No. 2 plays No. 15, No. 3 plays No. 14 and so on would end up with the same final result if all the top-seed prevailed -- No. 1 and No. 4 would play in one semifinal, No. 2 and No. 3 in the other.

The NHL re-seeds after each round, with the highest remaining seed moving on to play the lowest remaining seed, giving greater chance for upsets. But, in tennis, where matches are played every day and play in one bracket can be spread out over two days, this would be impossible.

As long as Venus and Serena remain in the top four, they won't end up on the same side of the draw unless the stars are properly aligned when their names are drawn. Heck, even if one of them drops as low as five, it would still be a gamble.

So, if you're sick of seeing Venus and Serena slug it out in Grand Slam final after Grand Slam final, pull out your rabbit's foot and your garlic cloves and get to work praying for upsets. Or, for early retirement.

Lindsay Berra writes for ESPN The Magazine.

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Serena's still the favorite
By Pam Shriver
Special to

Everybody, for the first time in a while, was curious how the Williams sisters would fall in the draw. It's a split with a Williams sister on each side and a Belgian on each side. But at the same time, I think everyone was ready for the impossibility of a Williams final. So take your pick, two schools of thought out there.

Pam's Picks

Former WTA Tour pro Pam Shriver is providing with in-depth analysis throughout the French Open. Shriver, a tennis analyst for ESPN, was ranked as high as No. 3 in singles play. She won 21 singles and 112 doubles crowns, including 22 Grand Slam titles.

Because she's lost two tournaments in a row, I think Serena Williams is shakier than she was last year at this time as far as her confidence. More important, the field has a much stronger belief that they can beat Serena. I think Venus' form has shown it will almost be a surprise if she gets to the final. Clay is still the least favorite surface for each of them.

A year ago, the question was could other players raise their game, and Kim Clijsters, Amelie Mauresmo and Justine Henin-Hardenne have shown they can. Also, all three do well on clay.

Despite that, Serena is still the favorite. She's going for her fifth consecutive Grand Slam title and is clearly the player to beat. Here's a look at some of the top players, as they appear in the bracket, and what to expect.

Serena Williams (1) Pam's Analysis
Serena's first possible test might come against Mary Pierce, the 2000 champion. That's if Pierce gets that far. She plays Clarissa Fernandez, a semifinalist last year, in the first round. Other players of note in Serena's half of the draw are young American Ashley Harkleroad, who's had a good year on clay, and Mauresmo, who would be the quarterfinal matchup.

Amelie Mauresmo (5) Pam's Analysis
Mauresmo brings that French flavor to the women's field along with Pierce. Mauresmo hasn't had a strong French Open yet - her best showing is the fourth round. She's been to the semifinals or beyond in the other three Slams, so clearly she's got an issue with playing at home. But if she can get through that, Mauresmo can cause anyone problems.

Justine Henin-Hardenne (4) Pam's Analysis
She's probably most people's either second or third pick to win. Henin-Hardenne had a nightmare first round last year in Paris. She was sick and looked miserable on the court. She played too much tennis last year. She had a couple of duels in Germany and Italy against Serena. This year, Henin-Hardenne's been much smarter by playing less. By beating Serena at the Family Circle Cup, she set the table at the French for the other players. She came within a couple of games two years ago of getting into the finals. Unless she's below par, I don't see her losing before the semis where she'll likely play Serena.

Daniela Hantuchova (9) Pam's Analysis
A potential contender in the past, Hantuchova is not strong. She's way too thin. She'll be a nonfactor unless she gets something together. Harkleroad would face Hantuchova in the second round.

Chanda Rubin (8) Pam's Analysis
Chanda Rubin is supposed to play Henin-Hardenne in the quarters. Her eighth-seeded placement is her highest since 1996, the year she got through to the semis of the Australian Open. She's had some dramatic wins at the French before coming back in the third set against Jana Novtna 0-5, 0-40 saving nine match points in one of the most famous matches in Paris ever along with Mary Joe Fernandez's comeback against Garbriella Sabatini. The surface is not suited to her big forehand.

Most Americans aren't as comfortable on clay. Three of them, Laura Granville, Lisa Raymond, Alexenandra Stevenson, are all seeded in the lower half of the draw with Rubin, so some nice U.S. representation there.

Jennifer Capriati (7) Pam's Analysis
A familiar name is at the top of the bottom half of the draw -- Jennifer Capriati, champion two years ago. Everybody knows she's not playing like she was in 2001. But she's still very dangerous. I last saw her play in mid-April. But in five weeks she can get in better shape, which she'll need to win the French. If she is in good condition, she will contend.

Monica Seles (12) Pam's Analysis
This will be interesting in the fourth round because Seles is due to meet Capriati. That's the kind of round of 16 match that gets fans fired up. Seles' life lately has been so full of injuries. Her foot's going to be fine but it's been one constant battle with a stress fracture. Clay is more forgiving, so that might give her foot a better chance.

Elena Dementieva (13) Pam's Analysis
The Sydney Olympics silver medalist Dementieva, is someone who stalled up until winning Amelia Island. Countrywoman Vera Zvonerva would be Dementieva's first seeded match. Zvonerva is a dangerous floater.

Venus Williams (3) Pam's Analysis
Venus has a good draw early, which is important for her. She's not full of confidence right now. When her confidence is down, the same things always trouble her: serve, forehand and too many unforced errors. Plus, her competitive desire isn't where it was two years ago and not where it needs to be to win. But the Capriati-Venus quarterfinal will be one of those matches that makes the tournament come to life in the second week.

Lindsay Davenport (6) Pam's Analysis
Newly married, we'll see how she plays. It's a big deal to get married. I know she pulled out of some tournaments saying she had a leg injury, but I don't know whether she was really injured or if she just hadn't gotten her focus back. Davenport is dangerous on any surface when she's striking the ball well.

She's got a tough second round opponent in Iroda Tulyaganova, who almost beat her in Australia. So Davenport's not going to have a chance to come in and warm up. She's going to need to be ready coming into her first match.

Jelena Dokic (10) Pam's Analysis
Dokic is just a shadow of what she was a year ago. That can change in a hurry at a major, but the way she's playing now she's pretty unproven.

Kim Clijsters (2) Pam's Analysis
Clijsters is surrounded by some Americans -- Corina Morariu, Amy Frazier, Lindsay Lee-Waters -- who probably aren't comfortable on clay. Clijsters first test will be against Paola Suarez, who got to the quarterfinals last year. In 2002, Clijsters, like Mauresmo, was tight, tense and never really got into the French after being the runner-up the year before. Based on how she's played in the past six months, there's no reason why she can't uphold her seeding and have another classic match with Serena or Henin-Hardenne in the final.

It's good that Venus and Clijsters are in the same side of the draw because they've been trading the ranking back and forth. Maybe it's justice to show who should be in the final. But I think Clijsters would win that matchup

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Breaking down the French Open draw

Posted: Saturday May 24, 2003 12:50 PM

Sports Illustrated senior writer Jon Wertheim peers into his crystal ball to reveal the fate of the top 16 men's and women's seeds for the French Open. Scroll down to see the first-round matches you shouldn't miss, some darkhorse candidates to advance to Week 2, and his championship predictions.

WOMEN'S REPORT | Men's Report

1. Serena Williams: Playing on her worst surface, the world No. 1 looked (and indeed was) unmistakably mortal in Charleston and Rome. Plus, the template for how to beat her -- junk it up and extract errors of frustration -- works best on clay. It's awfully hard to bet against the winner of four Slams running, but we'll do it anyway.

2. Kim Clijsters: Due (overdue?) to win her first Slam. If she keeps her head and convinces herself she really can beat Serena, this could be a gilded opportunity.

3. Venus Williams: The word is that she gave some thought to sitting this one out altogether. In addition to the strained stomach muscle, she seems to be rehabbing her spirit a bit. Might play herself into contention since her draw is mighty soft until a potential quarterfinal encounter with 2001 champ Jennifer Capriati.

4. Justine Henin-Hardenne: Has to be encouraged by her play in Charleston and Berlin. We're a bit concerned about her track record in Paris and in big matches in general, but it will be a mild shocker if she doesn't reach the semis.

5. Amélie Mauresmo: See: Henin-Hardenne. No question the talent is there. In the past month, she has beaten Venus (sort of), Capriati (as usual) and Serena (fair and square). But her status as one of the brighter and more self-aware players doesn't always work to her favor when matches tighten. She tends to get particularly, um, jittery with the high expectations she shoulders in Paris. (Her last two losses at Roland Garros have come to the redoubtable duo of Jana Kandarr and Paola Suarez. Yikes.) Quarterfinal match against Serena should be a good one, maybe even worthy of the big court and not Chartrier.

6. Lindsay Davenport: Newlywed may live up to her seeding, but that's probably it. A better player on clay than she professes, but there's a nagging sense that she no longer truly believes she can beat the best. Don't be surprised if Iroda Tulyaganova takes a set off her in the deuxième round.

7. Jennifer Capriati: The Capster hasn't won a tournament in more than a year, but she always competes well and has won on clay before. A benevolent draw has her facing no top-30 foes until the fourth round.

8. Chanda Rubin: Has turned in some erratic results of late, but she can play on clay and she thumped her possible quarterfinal foe, Henin-Hardeene, on a hard court in Miami. Some dangerous players pock her draw, but Rubin is a player to watch.

9. Daniela Hantuchova: Slumping badly and won't right the ship until she makes the necessary physical adjustments. A shame because she should be a top-five player. On the plus side, her draw is softer than hutertite goose down.

10. Jelena Dokic: The sine curve that is her career currently is at a node. She usually tends to bring her alpha game to the biggies, but, boy, has she been in a rut this year.

11. Anastasia Myskina: Interesting first-round match against Dinara Safina. After that, her draw appears to open up a bit.

12. Monica Seles: The heart says she'll make a deep run in what may well be her final performance at Roland Garros. The head says the bum ankle makes it awfully unlikely she'll be around much beyond the middle weekend.

13. Elena Dementieva: How much confidence remains from her victory at Amelia Island? She put some coins in the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately meter by winning her first career title, but we're not optimistic about her first-rounder against Maria Sanchez Lorenzo.

14. Eleni Daniilidou: Has turned into a moody player who looks like a top-five talent one day and an underachiever the next. Her heavy strokes will serve her well, but does she have the requisite patience for clay?

15. Magdalena Maleeva: Same old, same old. May live up to her seeding, but don't expect more.

16. Ai Sugiyama: Her opening match against Virginia Ruano Pascual is our Blue Plate Upset Special.


19. Patty Schnyder: A welter of family and personal issues serves as a distraction, but this temperamental Swiss lefty can always win some matches on talent alone.

22. Vera Zvonareva: Last year she was an unknown qualifier when she took a set off of Serena Williams. This year she might well be the hottest young player on tour.

23. Anna Pistolesi: Has yet to prove that she can challenge the top five, but her stamina and speed could serve her well on clay.

24. Conchita Martinez: Former finalist here is always dangerous on clay.

27. Alexandra Stevenson: Just kidding.

30. Paola Suarez: A quarterfinalist last year, Argentine swashbucklerette is dangerous against the right seed.

31. Laura Granville: Steadily, if quietly, climbing the ranks. Not on her best surface, but she competes well and is a fresh enough face that few opponents know her game.


Emilie Loit: Lefty junkball virtuosa could do damage against the right opponents, particularly with French fans in her corner.

Magui Serna: Irrepressible Spaniard quietly has turned in an awfully strong year, and she is playing on her best surface.

Virginia Ruano Pascal: Assuming she beats Sugiyama, her draw opens nicely.

Maria Sanchez Lorenzo: Just because.


Mary Pierce vs. Clarisa Fernandez: 2000 winner vs. 2002 semifinalist.

18. Meghann Shaughnessy vs. Svetlana Kuznetsova: Shaughnessy has cooled considerably since beating Venus in Miami. Kuznetsova is not simply Martina Navratilova's doubles partner; she can play some singles as well.

Myskina vs. Dinara Safina: Rushing the nyet.


Semifinals: Capriati vs. Clijsters, Serena Williams vs. Henin-Hardenne
Final: Clijsters vs. Williams
Champion: Clijsters

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Serena brimming with confidence

Serena Williams says her fitness is "unbelievable" as she prepares to defend her French Open crown.
Williams, who has won the last four Grand Slam events, admitted earlier in the season that she had been skipping sessions at the gym.

But on Sunday she said she had been concentrating on improving her fitness in recent weeks.

"My fitness is unbelievable right now," she said after a brief practice session at Roland Garros ahead of her first match on Monday.

"I just don't get tired. I've been really working on my fitness so I am in really good shape right now. I am happy."

The American, who compiled a 21-match unbeaten run earlier this year, has lost two matches on clay during the lead-up to the French Open.

But she denied she was struggling to adjust to the slower surface.

I don't remember it being at all tough last year - I just remember winning my matches

"It is not difficult for me to play on clay at all. I love the clay," she said.

"You know, I just love it - actually it means I can be lazier. I don't have to work as hard. I can be out of the point and get back into it, I really like that.

"It feels really great to be back here. I think for me Roland Garros is really, really special. I am very happy to be back."

Last year's victory in the final against elder sister Venus was Serena's first Grand Slam win since her maiden triumph at the US Open in 1999.

And the 21-year-old said she would draw on positive memories at this year's event.

"You know, I don't remember it being at all tough last time," she said. "I just remember winning my matches.

"It is important for me to go all out in the first rounds and not lose focus. It is important, whoever I am playing, to give 200% as opposed to just 100%."

The top seed faces Germany's Barbara Rittner in the first round.

Story from BBC SPORT:

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Serena Fighting Fit for French Open Defense
Sun May 25, 2003 09:08 AM ET
By Ossian Shine
PARIS (Reuters) - The Serena Williams 'catwoman' outfit may stay firmly under wraps at the French Open this next fortnight but the world No. 1 and top seed is not remotely concerned -- she feels the need for no superpowers at all.

The skin-tight, black Lycra outfit she sported to win the U.S. Open last year made her "run faster, jump higher, fight harder" she said.

But as she prepares to slide into action at Stade Roland Garros on Monday, Serena is happy just the way she is.

"My fitness is unbelievable right now," she said on Sunday after a brief practice session on the Parisian clay.

"I just don't get tired. I've been really working on my fitness so I am in really good shape right now ... I am happy."

The news will come as no comfort to anybody looking to dethrone the American phenomenon, especially as she is now forming something of a love affair with the tricky slow surface.

"It is not difficult for me to play on clay at all ... I love the clay," she smiled.

"You know, I just love it -- actually it means I can be lazier. I don't have to work as hard. I can be out of the point and get back into it. I really like that.

"It feels really great to be back here. I think for me Roland Garros is really, really special. I am very happy to be back."

Last year's victory in the final against elder sister Venus paved the way for a phenomenal year. She has won each grand slam since -- also against her sister in the final -- and is taking it all in her stride.

"You know, I don't remember it being at all tough last time," she said. "I just remember winning my matches."

Serena will be going all out to ensure this year's progress is just as smooth.

"It is important for me to go all out in the first rounds and not lose focus. It is important, whoever I am playing, to give 200 percent as opposed to just 100 percent."

Germany's Barbara Rittner -- Serena's first-round opponent on Monday -- had better watch out.

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Don't expect Serena to be toast of France
By Karen Crouse, Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
May 25 2003
The Palm Beach Post

PARIS -- You might turn on the TV next week to find Serena Williams battling Amelie Mauresmo in the quarterfinals of the French Open and get the wrong impression.

If such a high-stakes match comes to pass, you'll undoubtedly see the Roland Garros crowd hurling insults at Williams as though she were President Bush. That won't mean Mauresmo is a stand-in for France's President Jacques Chirac, or that the second Grand Slam of the year ought to be dubbed the Freedom Open for the U.S. feed.

The French will love to hate Williams if she meets Mauresmo because the American is defending the crown the French desperately want Mauresmo, their countrywoman, to wear.

It's a matter of pragmatism, not politics. On the 20th anniversary of Frenchman Yannick Noah's title run at Roland Garros, the natives are restless. They're thirsting for another champion to toast.

This week, the French welcome the world to the first major sporting event on European soil since France, Germany and Russia formed the axis of inertia in the U.S.-led war against Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq.

Hussein is gone, but resentments linger. American-Franco relations haven't been so strained since the 1960s when French President Charles de Gaulle withdrew his military from NATO.

Because of the political climate, the potential exists for the French Open to be as awkward as two adversaries exchanging kisses on both cheeks. The French don't appear to be sweating it. They act as if they can embrace the idea of Andy Roddick winning his first Grand Slam title here or Andre Agassi his ninth.

They are not so uniformly blas? about the prospect of Serena Williams winning her fifth consecutive major. Their affection for Mauresmo is a factor, although Williams should be a moveable feast for Paris, what with her catsuits and tiaras and colors-of-the-rainbows sneakers.

The Palm Beach Gardens resident is democratizing and accessorizing tennis the way Coco Chanel once did fashion. Alas, some of the French look at the queen of the women's tour and see shades of Marie Antoinette.

Railing against Serena

Williams, the haute couturier of tennis, got herself in haute water after winning the NASDAQ-100 Open in March when she mindlessly waded into a question about anti-French sentiment in the United States.

Affecting a Gallic accent, the self-described Francophile said, "Well, we don't want to play in the war. We want to make clothes. We don't want the war."

Williams's comment crossed the Atlantic faster than the Concorde. What she said wasn't callous like Marie Antoinette's "If they have no bread, let them eat cake" rant about the poor. It was in poor taste, is all.

As far as a few of the French were concerned, Williams's remark was the icing on the brioche. A handful of Paris boutiques, as reported by Fox Sports News, decided to drop every stitch of the Puma clothing Williams endorses.

On Rue du Faubourg Saint Honor?, the Worth Avenue of Paris, a sales clerk in the Dior store said she hadn't heard of any such boycott. "But it seems very possible," said the woman, a petite brunette named Macha. "What she said is offensive."

Her French critics should know Williams is contrite. "I think it was a very bad comment to make," she said this month in Rome. "I didn't mean to make it as a jeer or anything like that. I feel really, really terrible. I apologize to all the French and hope they didn't take it the wrong way.

"Now I obviously know war is a very, very sensitive subject. You live and you learn."

The French should have no quarrel with Williams there. C'est la vie is the current that flows through Paris like the River Seine.

Parisians in the main regard the unpleasantness in Iraq as so much spilt red wine. At the U.S. consulate here, a woman told us she couldn't believe it when her friends in the States started sending her news clippings about Americans turning their wrath on French grapes.

"My friends back home keep asking if Americans (here) are being shown any bad sentiments, and the answer is absolutely not," said the woman, who was helping her 17-year-old daughter renew her passport.

She said she was born and raised in Miami and has called France home for the past 17 years. "I don't sense Parisians holding any hostility toward Americans," said the woman, who declined to give her name. "The people I've been in contact with have been much more concerned with what Americans are saying about them. They ask me, 'Do they really not like us?' "

Her daughter, who had been standing quietly off to the side, spoke up. "It seems like for the French, saving face is important," she said.

Maybe, but in Paris, it seems like every third face is a hauteur mask. We walked through the swinging saloon doors of Harry's Bar on the rue Daunou because every American in Paris ought to see the place that inspired George Gershwin to compose one of his most memorable tunes.

Parlez-vous anglais? we asked Nicolas, the bartender. He said, "Yes" but his glower said, "Non." We're not able to say much in our guidebook French, but we can speak with authority on this: There remains nobody quite like the French at making a grown adult feel like a 3-year-old gesticulating and jabbering in a futile attempt to have her simplest needs understood.

The times we live in

It's hard to sweat Gallic superciliousness when there's a consular information sheet, dated May 22, circulating in the American community here that reads in part, "In recent months, arrests have been made in France in connection with various possible terrorist plots. American citizens should remain alert and vigilant, and report any suspect packages or suspicious activities to local police."

Gone are the days when tension at a Grand Slam event was confined to talk about racquet strings. Philippe Bouin, a tennis writer for the French sports daily L'Equipe, answered an e-mail about the French Open with the observation that the recent suicide bombings in Morocco "may push the tension level higher than intended."

For the players, the French Open is a Level Orange Grand Slam. The red clay of Roland Garros raises their state of alertness a notch or two. It rewards fortitude as much as topspin forehands. Freelancing on points is discouraged and diligence and defense duly rewarded.

That makes the French Open more than a tennis tournament. It's a metaphor for the times in which we live.

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Serena Williams: Good for Annika, but I don't want to play against men
May 25, 2003
PARIS (AP) -- Serena Williams was impressed by Annika Sorenstam's foray onto the PGA Tour. The No. 1 women's tennis player has no desire to play against men, though.

``I think she did great,'' Williams said Sunday. ``I really wanted her to do even better. But I think she did really, really well.''

Williams, who begins defense of her French Open title Monday, added that Sorenstam proved ``she can hang up there. It's cool she was able to do that.''


Williams has been as dominant on the WTA Tour as Sorenstam is on the LPGA Tour, winning tennis' last four Grand Slam tournaments and opening 2003 with 21 consecutive match victories.

At the Colonial tournament in Fort Worth, Texas, this week, Sorenstam became the first woman to play in a PGA Tour event in 58 years. The Swede had creditable rounds of 71-74 but missed the cut.

Williams won't entertain thoughts of trying something similar.

``I'm here to play female tennis,'' she said. ``I've never been involved in men's tennis.''

Asked how she thought she would do if tempted to play against men, Williams smiled and delivered a quick response: ``I wouldn't be tempted.''

This year is the 30th anniversary of the original ``Battle of the Sexes'' on a tennis court. On Sept. 20, 1973, Billie Jean King beat Bobby Riggs in an exhibition in Houston, bringing more exposure to women's sports.

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Choking on Serena's scraps
By [email protected]
May 25 2003
The Observer

Forget ladies who lunch, ladies who choke are setting the trend in tennis this year. The mouth- watering delicacy that is victory is becoming stuck in an awful lot of gullets.

It all started with the Australian Open in January when the defending champion, Jennifer Capriati, lost in the first round after being a set and a break up against the German Marlene Weingartner (although classifying this as a choke may not be entirely accurate given that Capriati normally scoffs small fry such as Weingartner as if they were a light side dish). A day later there was no mistaking Emilie Loit's discomfort when the Frenchwoman took the first set off Serena Williams and had a point for 4-2 in the second. The prospect of beating the world's best player was too much for Loit to stomach and she faded fast.

The Serena effect has been a major cause of this outbreak of choking and it struck again at the Australian Open when Kim Clijsters led the world number one 5-1 in the deciding set of their semi-final before gagging on the tension. Clijsters appeared to have difficulty clinging on to her racket when she served for the match for a second time in the third set and produced two double faults. 'I was close to beating her and so I am very disappointed,' said Clijsters, 'but she came up with great shots. I have to keep my chin up.' Chin up, can't choke? Possibly.

Monica Seles used to know no other way than winning tournaments. Not any more, and the chance to claim her fifty-fourth career title - she would surely have reached three figures had it not been for her terrible stabbing in 1993 - made her all jittery in the final against Justine Henin-Hardenne in Dubai in February. Seles dropped a match point in the second set and served for the title in the third set before losing. She praised Henin for staying relaxed at the crucial moments, a tacit admission that this was what she had failed to do.

The most recent choke in a big match came last Sunday with Clijsters the beneficiary on this occasion. She beat Am?lie Mauresmo 3-6, 7-6, 6-0 in the final of the Italian Open after the French player came within two points of winning in the second set. Mauresmo has previous when it comes to succumbing to nerves. At the 2001 French Open, the Paris crowd expected great things of her after she won 31 out of 34 matches going into the tournament, but she lost abjectly in the first round to Germany's Jana Kandarr. After last weekend's defeat by Clijsters in Rome, Mauresmo blamed exhaustion while just about everyone else who was there detected frailty under pressure.

Men also lose from winning positions, of course, although the politically incorrect wanting to make the case that choking is a woman thing can always quote the most remembered collapse of all, Jana Novotna's defeat in the 1993 Wimbledon final. Novotna served for a 5-1 lead in the third set before losing 7-6 1-6 6-4 to Steffi Graf. (Famously, Novotna then wept on the Duchess of Kent's shoulder at the prize-giving, prompting the Duchess to console her: 'Don't worry, Jana, you'll be back next year.')

While Clijsters admitted that she felt a twinge of sympathy for Mauresmo as the French player's game fell to pieces in Rome, that said more about the affable Belgian than it did about the women's game being less competitive than the men's. Clijsters, who will be 20 on the last day of the French Open, is widely, and rightly, admired for having managed to achieve so much in the women's game - she has risen to split the Williams sisters at the top of the world rankings - while acquiring none of the self-conscious belligerence of so many young sports stars.

It is, perhaps no coincidence that the well-rounded Clijsters seems to figure (as winner and loser) in more 'choke' matches than most other players. A player not obsessed with her profession - she said last week that she regarded tennis as a hobby, despite the riches it has earned her - is probably more vulnerable to applying herself erratically than the single-minded ones who wear the expressions of trainee accountants on court.

If Clijsters did perform more evenly it would make it easier to predict that on Saturday week she would be acknowledging the acclaim of the Roland Garros crowd after becoming the first Belgian to win a grand-slam singles title. She has a wonderfully robust game that meets all the demands of twenty-first-century tennis and with Henin, Capriati and Lindsay Davenport is one of a select corps who go into matches against the Williamses unintimidated.

But nagging doubts persist about her ability to hold it all together throughout a grand-slam final. She came desperately close to doing so at the 2001 French Open when she missed the title in a terrific match, which Capriati won 12-10 in the third. The point about that match, though, was that Capriati did not play particularly well and still won. Clijsters' only other grand-slam final was in Australia earlier this year when her game disintegrated so spectacularly.

And if Clijsters cannot stop Serena Williams in Paris as the American seeks her fifth successive grand-slam title (and sixth in all) it is hard to know who can. Henin may be able to - she has beaten Serena on clay this year - but the rigours of winning through a 128-player draw have always proved too much for the bird-like Belgian. Capriati and Davenport are struggling to produce their best form.

One of the biggest disappointments in the women's game is that neither Slovakia's Daniela Hantuchova nor Jelena Dokic of Yugoslavia has maintained the progress of the past two years. Both looked likely to join the serious players 12 months ago, but with the midway point of the 2003 season approaching neither has even made it to a final. Hantuchova's weight - or rather loss of it - has been a hot topic recently with her British coach, Nigel Sears, admitting it is a problem that is being addressed. Dokic, meanwhile, seems to have been distracted by her romance with the Brazilian racing driver Enrique Bernoldi.

There is always Venus, of course, to take on her younger sister, even if it is a challenge she has appeared to face with diminishing conviction in recent months. Five defeats in a row, including in the finals of each of the past four grand slams, have taken their inevitable toll. At least the draw was kind to her on Friday, placing her in the opposite half of the draw from the champion.

All the signs are, though, that the only thing Serena may choke on over the next two weeks is her victory speech on Saturday 7 June

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post #15 of 191 (permalink) Old May 27th, 2003, 01:22 PM Thread Starter
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Can Serena Make It Five Slams In A Row?
By Sandra Harwitt
Special to WTAFANS.COM

As the French Open is about to get underway this coming Monday, the big question that will be swirling around Roland Garros is whether Serena Williams can win her fifth Grand Slam title in a row?

Williams, who started her reign over the four majors at last year's French Open, going on to win Wimbledon, the US Open and then the Australian Open earlier this season, is bound to have all eyes on her as she attempts to march through the 2003 draw in Paris. For most players, that kind of pressure would be enormous, but Williams doesn't seem to sweat about anything these days.

As she enters the grounds at Roland Garros, Serena comes armed with a remarkable 26-2 record for the year - if those numbers don't send chills down opponent's backs, you wonder what would? Nevertheless, if there are a few Serena skeptics out there, they will be making mention that Williams experienced those two losses recently - both on clay -- which could mean she will be vulnerable in Paris.

The first loss came to Belgian Justine Henin-Hardenne at the Family Circle Cup in April. The second loss came in a three-set semifinal in Rome at the hands of Frenchwoman Amelie Mauresmo. There is no denying that Henin and Mauresmo are two players who are very capable on all surfaces, including on the red clay in Paris, so their victories send a message that there is hope when fellow players try to beat Williams.

Nevertheless, it is hard to ignore that Williams felt that the fault for the loss to Mauresmo was her own - it wasn't that the Frenchwoman did anything special to send her packing. At the time, Williams said, "Everything went wrong for me. I was making too many errors and struggling with my serve. I guess that sums it up. You can't win a match with a second serve. There was nothing in particular she did. When I lose a match, it's usually because of how I played. In the end, it's better to lose in Rome than in Paris."

Clearly, Serena has the situation puzzled out and it is better to lose in Rome than in Paris, if you have to lose at all. And even someone as dominant as Serena will occasionally experience a defeat or two. But it seems prudent to expect Serena to arrive at Roland Garros ready to defend her title and to be donning her most intimidating demeanor.

That does not mean that there aren't a few players out there that aren't in a position to challenge Serena's authority if things conveniently fall into place for them. There's Kim Clijsters, Henin, Jennifer Capriati, Mauresmo and, of course, Serena's older sis, Venus, who could stir up some trouble for the world No. 1.

Clijsters, who recently moved into the No. 2 ranking position ahead of Venus Williams, is looking like a serious threat. She just earned her third title of the year at Rome by upending Mauresmo in the final. The Belgian is playing confident tennis and if she can keep her head if she gets to crunch time - something she was unable to accomplish when leading Serena in the Australian Open semifinals this year - it could lead to a first career Grand Slam trophy in Paris.

Big sis Venus has played the understudy role to Serena at all four of the last Grand Slams and that factor could continue to serve as a big mental distraction for the former world No. 1. Venus remembers that her father always said Serena would eventually be the better player and also remembers that not that long ago she was the more successful sister until the baby of the family scored big at Roland Garros last year. Venus needs not only to believe she can, once again, beat Serena. She also needs to take advantage of her advantages - her height should translate to a big, powerful, reliable first and second serve, which it doesn't, at least not yet. And the breadth of her wingspan should translate into her being comfortable cutting off points at the net which it doesn't, at least not yet.

Henin will head into the French knowing she's had a recent win over Serena - that could give her a big boost if she finds herself facing the top dog of the women's tour. Henin has a different style than the other players on tour - she is more artistry than power in many circumstances and that presents Serena with having to give a bit more thought to the situation.

Capriati scored the title in Paris in 2001 and has the aggressive baseline game that fares well on the dirt. But her confidence has been shaky since she won a second consecutive Australian Open trophy in January 2002 and the top players are all aware of her vulnerabilities, especially her lack of a credible second serve.

Mauresmo's pressure at the French is simply being French. The crowd would love nothing better than to see a Frenchwoman win the title and Mauresmo never seems able to forget that fact with every stroke of the ball. The result is that her tailor-made game for Court Centrale never really shines at the one place she wants to shine more than any place else on earth - her best results in eight appearances at Roland Garros was fourth round showings in 2000 and 2002.

If anyone is likely to dethrone the defending champion at Paris, the most likely candidates will be Clijsters, Venus, Henin, Capriati, or Mauresmo. But if the same Serena Williams whose been showing up at the past four Grand Slams arrives at Roland Garros, it's going to be a tough road to victory for anyone but the reigning champion.

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