Archive for Saturday, May 25, 2002

Sampras faces rugged draw

Hewitt, Capriatti notch No. 1 seeds for next week’s Grand Slam event at Roland Garros

May 25, 2002


— As Pete Sampras swatted practice strokes in a drizzle a few hours after Friday's draw for the French Open, a yellow ball smacked against the net and rolled slowly, gathering rust-colored dirt.

Sampras wandered over, lifted the coated ball, and wondered aloud: "What is this? The ball doesn't even bounce."

Things never seem to go Pistol Pete's way at Roland Garros, and this year's draw was no exception, putting him in a tough quarter with No. 1-ranked Lleyton Hewitt, three-time French Open champion Gustavo Kuerten and '98 winner Carlos Moya.

Andre Agassi, who won here three years ago to complete a career Grand Slam, is in the other half of the field and will play a qualifier in the first round.

Defending women's champion and top-seeded Jennifer Capriati will open against countrywoman Marissa Irvin (2002 match record: 4-8), and looks to have a relatively easy path to the quarterfinals.

The draw split up Venus and Serena Williams, meaning they could have a reprise of their Sibling Slam final at the U.S. Open.

A quarterfinal showdown between Venus Williams and 1990-92 champion Monica Seles is possible. Other potential quarterfinals are Capriati against Jelena Dokic; last year's runner-up, Kim Clijsters, against Sandrine Testud; and Serena Williams, who won her first career clay-court title at last week's Italian Open, against Justine Henin, a Wimbledon finalist and French Open semifinalist in 2001.

The men's quarters could be Hewitt vs. Kuerten, the defending champion who had hip surgery in February; Agassi vs. Roger Federer; 2000 U.S. Open champ Marat Safin vs. Tim Henman; and 1996 French Open winner Yevgeny Kafelnikov vs. Tommy Haas.

Hewitt's first-round opponent is Andre Sa of Brazil (7-13 this year), while Kuerten will open against Ivo Heuberger of Switzerland, who's won just one match at a Grand Slam event.

"My goal is to win the most tournaments possible," said Kuerten, never a semifinalist at any other Grand Slam event. "I would love to win the U.S. Open or Wimbledon. But it happens that my game is more adapted to clay.

Play starts Monday.

Marcelo Rios, a former No. 1-ranked player slated to be seeded 22nd here, withdrew Friday with a knee injury. His spot in the field will be taken by one of the losers in the qualifying tourney.

There was a bit of good news in the draw for Sampras, whose No. 12 ranking is his lowest heading into the French Open since his 1989 debut: He's won all three previous matches against first-round opponent Andrea Gaudenzi of Italy.

Sampras' troubles in Paris are the one blotch on his resume, which includes a record 13 Grand Slam titles (seven Wimbledons, four U.S. Opens, two Australian Opens). The French Open is the only major played on clay, which takes some sting off his powerful serves and volleys.

"I have to play patient. My serve isn't as effective on clay as on other surfaces," said Sampras, who's only been as far as the semifinals at Roland Garros once, in 1996.

"I need to be smart out there."

His switch in February to coach Jose Higueras came at least in part with an eye on Roland Garros, where Sampras' last four trips ended in the first or second round.

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