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Discussion Starter #1
Friday, May 23
Some different players lead the field
By MaliVai Washington
Special to ESPN.com


Mal's Picks


This year's French Open might be more interesting than last year's because there is no single person who is the heavy favorite going into the event.

Yet there are some players who aren't typically names you throw around when talking of Grand Slam champions who might be leading the field in Paris.

My top three picks, in no particular order, are Juan Carlos Ferrero, Roger Federer and Andre Agassi. Let's take a closer look.

Juan Carlos Ferrero (3) Mal's Analysis
Juan Carlos Ferrero proved over the past two years that he's a great clay-courter. He advanced to the semifinals at the French Open two years ago and reached the final last year. He just won Monte Carlo a few weeks ago, but he had to withdraw from the semifinal of Rome because of a right arm problem. That might be his biggest opponent in Paris this year. If his arm is not 100 percent, there's no way he can go out and win against the best claycourters in the world over the course of two weeks and seven matches.


Guillermo Coria (7) Mal's Analysis
Coria is a player who if you look at his build, at 5-foot-9, you wouldn't necessarily expect to find him holding a Grand Slam trophy. But coming in to Paris, he's played as well as anyone and better than most. The runner-up in Monte Carlo and winning in hamburg, puts him at the top of the list of clay-court specialists trying to win the French Open.

Surprisingly, along with Coria, his countrymen David Nalbandian, Augstin Calleri and Gaston Gaudio have vaulted Argentinian tennis to the forefront. Don't be surprised if one of these Argentineans has a showing on the final weekend.




Lleyton Hewitt (1) Mal's Analysis
Any tournament on any surface, Lleyton Hewitt will be a contender. His experience and his tenacity combined with his No. 1 seeding will make him a force to reckon with no matter whom he plays. Fortunately for him, he starts out with inexperienced American Brian Vahaly, who certainly isn't in his element playing on red clay and might be overwhelmed on center court against the top seed.

For Hewitt to be successful on red clay, he's going to have to develop one shot that players are scared of. Right now, he's the ultimate counter-puncher and on clay there are some players who do that a little bit better than he does. Hewitt won't win this year, but I think he will at some point in his career.




Roger Federer (5) Mal's Analysis
Once again leading into the French Open, Roger Federer has shown that he is an excellent player on clay. There's no reason why he can't go through this draw and win his first Grand Slam title. Federer has to be able to win matches when he's playing at 70 percent of his potential. Everybody knows he can beat anyone in the world when he's at the top of his game, but a lot of players can do that. The greatest champions win when they're not at their best. That is where he has failed in the past.



Carlos Moya (4) Mal's Analysis
Carlos Moya is a player who when healthy, motivated and focused has one of the most beautiful games you'll ever see on the tennis court. He can make it look effortless. Which Carlos Moya shows up in Paris this fortnight, remains to be seen. He's won this title before; he can do it again.



Andre Agassi (2) Mal's Analysis
People always ask me how many more majors is Andre Agassi going to win or how is he able to hold the No. 1 spot at 33 years old. And my answer always is: I have no idea. Because I've never seen anything like what Agassi has been doing since the French Open in 1999. Each year, he seems to be a little bit more fit and a little bit more determined. More than anything, when he walks out onto the court, his belief in himself is more than his opponent's belief in himself.

If I had to answer today is Agassi going to win another major, I'd say "maybe not," but I've said that in the past and I was wrong.




Gustavo Kuerten (15) Mal's Analysis
For the sake of men's tennis, I hope Guga is healthy and can challenge for this year's French Open. Throughout the world and the locker room he is one of the most admired and respected players as an athlete and a person. There were players who were sad to see him succumb to injury in the last 18 months. I find it funny that he always downplays his chances going into the French Open because everybody else looks at him and knows he is a strong contender. If he can get through the first week, that will be his biggest challenge. If he reaches the second week, he'll prove that physically he's ready to win a major with the injury behind him.



James Blake (24) Mal's Analysis
I have a lot of respect for James Blake's game, and I feel he has the ability to succeed on a lot of different surfaces. I can't wait to see him play because I want to see what he learned from Davis Cup last year at Roland Garros. I always felt when I played Davis Cup, each tie was a big learning experience. If he didn't learn anything from that tie about how to play on red clay, I don't think he will make it past the first week. But if he did come away a better player on clay, don't be surprised to see him in the round of 16 the second week.


Andy Roddick (6) Mal's Analysis
Coming into this year's French Open, Americans had a very poor showing on the red clay of Europe, including Andy Roddick. To succeed in Paris, he has to do something on the red clay that he's not used to doing: show patience. As big as his serve and forehand are, he's so used to winning a lot of free points it won't be that easy on the red clay. He learned that last year in the Davis Cup semifinal he lost in Paris.

One of the challenges he's had on clay is his movement. He attempts to play a hard-court style of game on the red clay. But if he can get his confidence and get a few matches under his belt early in the first week, he's a player who thrives off of confidence as well as anyone. Expect to see him in the second week but maybe not beyond the fourth round.
 

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Nothing wrong with his analysis, but will he please stop repeatedly referring to 'the red clay' at every opportunity? Just plain old clay is good enough for most people.
 

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Discussion Starter #4
Mal's only flaw is his unflappable faith in Federer. Everytime he picks him to win a tournament, it's like the kiss of death.
 
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