Men's field open as usual

Updated: February 25, 2007 09:48 IST
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Paris:Pete Sampras never won the French Open. Neither did John McEnroe or Stefan Edberg. Jimmy Connors and Boris Becker didn't reach a final at Roland Garros. All had plenty of success elsewhere, of course: a total of 37 Grand Slam titles. On the other hand, the list of French Open champions does include such one-hit wonders as Michael Chang (1989), Andres Gomez (1990), and Thomas Muster (1995). Albert Costa might be destined to join the group of men with one major triumph, but he made it clear on Sunday that it's ok with him as he prepares to defend his French Open title. "I'm not feeling the pressure," the Spaniard said. "Now, I don't care. If I play good, I'm going to have a good ranking. If I play bad, I'm not going to have a good ranking. Things are simple". What's far from simple is predicting which man will win the year's second Grand Slam event. While it's hard to imagine someone other than a Williams or a Belgian taking the women's title, the men's field is wide open, as usual. Costa put the number of contenders at about 20 and started rattling off a veritable 'Who's Who' of tennis. "A lot of players can win here. If I have to choose two, I will choose Ferrero and Moya," he said. "There are a lot of players that can do really good on clay. Argentines are very good. The Spanish are really good. There are some others, like Agassi, Kuerten". Those he mentioned do have strong credentials: No. 3-seeded Juan Carlos Ferrero reached last year's final and has gone 21-2 on clay in 2003, with titles at Monte Carlo and Valencia. No. 4 Carlos Moya is the only other man with two clay titles this year, and he won the 1998 French Open (his lone major title). No. 15 Gustavo Kuerten is a three-time champion at Roland Garros (and has never been past the quarterfinals at another major). No. 2 Andre Agassi counts the 1999 French Open among his eight career Grand Slam titles, including this year's Australian Open. At 33, he also happens to be the oldest player in the 128-man field. There are others in the mix, too, such as top-ranked Lleyton Hewitt or No. 5 Roger Federer (12-2 on clay this year). The honour of playing Monday's opening match on centre court went to Serena Williams, trying to become the first woman since Steffi Graf in 1988-89 to win five straight majors. The defending champion demolished Barbara Rittner, a German ranked 87th. "It's important for me to go out in the first few rounds and just do my best and not lose focus," Williams said. "I'm feeling really good and confident about my game. And I think that's what matters most". Serena professes to be a big fan of clay, which can dull powerful shots and make for slower points. "I actually can be lazier. I don't have to work as hard," she said. "I can be out of the point and get back in the point, so I really like that". Count Sampras among those who haven't. He owns a record 14 Grand Slam titles, but only once was a semifinalist in Paris. Sampras won five French Open matches over the past six years combined, so his recent withdrawal wasn't nearly as surprising as his decision not to play at Wimbledon. Others who've been frustrated in France: McEnroe and Edberg both lost title matches, and Arthur Ashe never even reached a final. John Newcombe won seven majors, but he failed to get past the quarterfinals at the French Open. Since 1983, eight men who won the French Open failed to duplicate that success at the Australian Open, Wimbledon or US Open. Over that span, only one female French Open champion - 1997's Iva Majoli - never won at another major tournament. Costa is the epitome of a come-from-nowhere major champion. Last year's French Open is his only singles title at any level since August 1999 - a stretch of 88 events. He didn't go beyond the quarterfinals at 85 of those. "The most important thing is to believe that you can win this tournament," said Costa. To believe: "Why not?" (AP)

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