French Open 2003
Attackers bite the dust at Roland Garros
Friday, 23 May , 2003, 17:06
Paris: It's been 20 years since an out-and-out attacking player won the men's singles French Open title on the claycourts of Roland Garros and that sequence looks unlikely to be ended this year.
Dreadlocked and dashing Yannick Noah was the last man to batter the baseliners defeating Mats Wilander in straight sets in 1983 and providing the only home win since 1946.
In the two decades since that heartwarming day on a sun-splashed central court, many attacking greats have tried and failed here.
John McEnroe, Boris Becker, Stefan Edberg, Pat Rafter and more recently Pete Sampras all came to grief on the dusty, red stuff and Sampras has just announced that he has all but given up hope of ever finding his feet in France.
A scan of the 32 men's seeds makes depressing reading for fans of serve-and-volley tennis with only Andy Roddick of the United States and Britain's Tim Henman fitting the bill and even they will be forced to mainly slug it out from the baseline.
The problem is that developments in recent years in terms of equipment and player' fitness mean that groundstrokes have become more and more powerful and accurate and charging the net is no longer a realistic tactic.
That leaves the more attack-minded players such as Andre Agassi, Roger Federer and Sebastien Grosjean to provide the entertainment against the crusty Spanish and South American claycourt specialists.
Tournament organisers must have been squirming at the recent Hamburg Masters when for the first time ever four Argentinian players filled the four semi-final slots.
It might have given cause for celebration in the streets of Buenos Aires and Cordoba, but it led to a half-empty stadium in Germany.
A similar mix in Paris with South American and Spanish claycourters monopolising the latter stages of what has become one of the highlights of the French sports calendar would not be welcome.
Top seed Lleyton Hewitt is aware of how deflating an experience Roland Garros can be for a non-claycourter having failed to get past the quarter-finals here in four attempts.
Playing in Dusseldorf this week, the Australian sounded less than confident of a better outcome this time.
"Whether I will ever win the French and master playing on clay, who knows," he said. "Maybe I have to work a bit harder on clay - it's a challenge and I've always liked challenges. Not having grown up on it means that it takes me a little longer to get used to it but I enjoy playing on clay, the strategy and the patience you need."
He could, however, take heart from the player he is seeded to meet in the final, Andre Agassi.
The Las Vegan came up short 10 times in Paris before finally winning at his 11th attempt in 1999 when he came back from two sets down to defeat Ukraine's Andrei Medvedev, a win that resurrected his career.
The weather could also play a part in providing an upset winner.
French all-court player Arnaud Clement said that aggressive players like Hewitt and Agassi will be praying for the sun to shine.
"The balls and the courts at Roland Garros are better suited to them than other claycourts, but for them to win the sun will have to shine and the humidity will have to be low." With the weather decidedly cool and rainy in Paris this week, the portents are not good.