Paris: It's not about strawberries and cream, but as the second grand slam of the season, the French Open has its own prestige. The very first French Championships were held way back in 1891, and the tournament has since grown into one of the four Grand Slams we know today. However, the competition did not become international until 1925. In 1928, the tournament was moved to its current home, Roland Garros, and the 2004 edition starts on Monday, May 24. Can Federer break the jinx? World number one, Roger Federer starts his French Open campaign as the favourite this year. But he knows that winning this grand slam will be no child's play. His embarrassing French Open jinx includes two successive first rounds defeats, including the last year's loss to Peruvian, Luis Horna. A tough draw this year hasn't made things any easier for him, with triple Roland Garros champion Gustavo Kuerten and former number one Marat Safin all waiting to pounce on him in the later stages of the championships. However with defending champion Juan Carlos Ferrero out of form with a wrist injury, and the added psychological advantage of having beaten Guillermo Coria at the Hamburg Masters earlier this month, the Swiss would consider this his best chance. But the Argentine Coria is not to be treated lightly-- the world's leading clay-courter has won all of his 8 titles on this slow surface. He was a semi-finalist at Roland Garros last year, and his 31 match unbeaten run on clay was ended only by Federer in Hamburg. Interesting battle on the cards Like Federer, Amelie Mauresmo also believes this is her best shot at winning the French Open. She certainly looks the favourite on paper having won back to back clay court titles in Berlin and Rome in the run up to Roland Garros. Her worst obstacle in the past though has been her inability to cope with the pressure and expectations of the home crowd. She was booed off the court last year after crumbling in the quarter finals to Serena Williams. Serena Williams herself had a traumatic French Open experience in 2003 when she was constantly jeered during a controversial semi final encounter with Justine Henin-Hardenne. The American is just back from an eight month absence because of knee surgery. Serena who would be sporting a new outfit at the championships, will have to play just as good as she looks if she wants to add to her 2002 triumph in Paris. Defending champion Justine Henin-Hardenne would, in normal circumstances, be a sure favourite to retain her title, with a 25-2 win-loss record this season and four titles. But she hasn't played competitively since last month after being laid low by a virus. She takes on French woman Sandrine Testud, in the first round and could run into Amelie Mauresmo in the semi finals. Martina magic But all eyes will be on Martina Navratilova. Champion at Roland Garros in 1984, the 47 year old decided to play singles at a Grand Slam event for the first time since 1994 to celebrate the 20th anniversary of her second French Open title. She has the experience and, as her two mixed doubles titles with Leander Paes show, the hunger to win.
Topics : Tennis