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Americans have had little success at French Open

May 26, 2007
By Steve Douglas Special to PA SportsTicker

PARIS (Ticker) - The French Open has offered precious little success to American players over the past 15 years, and only Serena Williams appears able to reverse that trend this time around.

Since 1992, only three Americans have claimed singles titles at Roland Garros - Andre Agassi (1999), Jennifer Capriati (2001) and Williams (2002).

And aside from Williams, the cupboard again seems bare in 2007 ahead of the start of the tournament on Sunday. Mardy Fish's withdrawal through injury on Friday means there are just two seeded USA players - Andy Roddick and James Blake - in the men's singles draw.

Roddick is the first to admit he is not at home on clay, while Blake has not progressed past the third round in Paris in four attempts.

Among the women, the Williams sisters, Serena and Venus, again fly the flag for their country as the only seeded American entries.

Venus is ranked 26th here this year and should again struggle to add to the five Grand Slam titles she already has in her collection.

It could therefore be left to Serena to do the U.S. proud.

Justine Henin, the reigning champion, is the favorite again this year, but Williams returns after a two-year absence from Roland Garros in a bullish mood.

No doubt buoyed by her powerful run at the Australian Open which ended with her thrashing top seed Maria Sharapova, 6-1 6-2 in the final, she arrives in Paris fresh and back in the world's top 10 for the first time since the autumn of 2005. A Grand Slam could even be in the offing, but she is only thinking about the French Open at the moment.

"What's on my mind is just winning seven matches at Roland Garros," said the 25-year-old, seeded eighth this year. "That's my main focus. I'm more experienced this year. And I'm having just as much fun and really enjoying the game.

"Being number one again would be a dream come true. But I'm just focused on the French Open and going from there." Serena Williams has experienced injury-plagued seasons in both 2005 and 2006, but appears to be back to her best after opting to pick and choose for tournaments this year.

She plays Tsvetana Pironkova first up and is scheduled to meet Henin in a matchup of the heavyweights in the quarterfinals.

Venus Williams is in the same half of the draw as her sister and opens her campaign against Frenchwoman Alize Cornet, a wild card.

Venus' best performance at Roland Garros came in 2002 when she reached the final, only to lose to her sister. Elsewhere in the women's draw, Meilen Tu - the third highest-ranked American at number 40 in the world - takes on Romina Oprandi in the first round, while Meghann Shaughnessy plays 2004 winner Anastasia Myskina.

Roddick has shown some good form on the dirt this past week at the Poertschach International in Vienna, making the quarterfinals before succumbing to Gael Monfils.

A week earlier, he had lost in the last 16 in Rome to Juan Ignacio Chela.

But he is already up against it at Roland Garros - in first-round opponent Igor Andreev, third-seed Roddick faces the last man to defeat Rafael Nadal on clay before the Spaniard's 81-match winning run on the surface was ended by Roger Federer in the Masters final in Hamburg last weekend.

"I came here to get tough matches to get ready for the French Open," said Roddick on his campaign in Vienna this week. "In Rome, I did everything well besides my serve and my forehand. I've improved here but can still get better."

Roddick never has progressed past the third round at the French Open and has won just four matches in six years here. Blake, the eighth seed, is in the same half of the draw as Roddick.

He also has a tough opener, against giant Croatian Ivo Karlovic, who was a winner on clay in Houston six weeks ago.

Blake made the semifinals there, but could not progress past the last 16 in either Rome or Hamburg since.

Robby Ginepri appears to be the only other American able to make a splash in the men's draw - he plays Diego Hartfield of Argentina in the first round.
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