The armada from Spain led all tennis nations a year ago in the men's singles
at Garros. Ten different Spanish players contributed at least one win in the
main draw, and their successes added up to 20 singles victories. Juan Carlos
Ferrero was the leader, reaching the semis with 5 match wins, followed by
veterans Costa and Corretja, each with 4. Not far behind Spain in total
singles wins was the contingent from Argentina, where ten different winners
notched a total of 16 matches, including 5 by Squillari. (The overall men's
crown went to the Australians, however, because of superior performance in
doubles by the Woodys and others.)
Again this year Spain's singles depth assures strong representation in the
late rounds. Ferrero, now 21, won clay-court championships this spring at
Estoril, Barcelona, and Rome, and clearly is now the armada's prime
performer. Ferrero was hero of Spain's Davis Cup triumph last year when he
defeated both Rafter and Hewitt. He wields a powerful, accurate, and
consistent forehand capable of seizing dominance amid any point, allowing him
to play aggressively on the baseline and occasionally approach net. His
recent five-set ordeals in consecutive finals of the Italian and German Opens
raise concern, and indeed a groin injury required him to miss the final
tuneup event in Dusseldorf. Meanwhile Albert Portas, who conquered Ferrero at
Hamburg, has shown fine results all spring and should also contend strongly
at Garros. Portas's power-and-topspin game is complemented by his skill in
hitting short angles, drop shots, and their sequences--especially valuable
assets in long matches as competitors tire.
The Spanish talent seems endless. Former Garros champion (1998) Carlos Moya
and Felix Mantilla are showing signs of regaining former heights. Vicente won
three matches at Garros last year before bowing to Kafelnikov in five sets.
Just this month, Albert Martin won the tournament in Mallorca, and Diaz upset
Kafelnikov at Hamburg. Balcells is rising. Costa and Corretja will be back.
Closest to Spain in singles depth are Argentina and the host nation, France.
The array of Argentine stars is led by Squillari, Gaudio, and teenaged Coria.
Two rising French performers--Clement and Grosjean--reached the semis at
Australian Open this year, while Jerome Golmard seems on the brink of similar
success, having reached the final of the U.S. Clay in Houston in early May.
French veterans Pioline, Dupuis, and Santoro should score, while Escude has
been close to breaking out upward for years. Though the odds are very long
that any of the above individuals will win the tournament, clearly several
could reach the late rounds.
Sweden, too, has a wide array of talent, including prime prospect
Vinciguerra, 20, and last year's Garros runner-up Magnus Norman. Norman shows
a series of losses recently, but he has the physical tools to win the
tournament. Meanwhile Russia offers two superstars--Kafelnikov is a
multi-talented former Garros champion (1996), and heavy-hitting Safin was
last year's winner at U.S. Open and runner-up in the year's points race.
Both men reached the final eight at Garros last year. Kafelnikov lost to
eventual champion Kuerten in five sets, Safin to runner-up Norman in four.
Neither shows significant triumphs in 2001, though both were doing well at
mid-week in Dusseldorf.
Meanwhile Andre Agassi, now 31, keeps getting better. He won the Australian
Open this January, and then took the tournaments at Indian Wells and Miami,
thus sweeping the three big events of the early year. But clay is not his
best surface, and he started the current clay season poorly, bowing out early
in Atlanta, Rome, and Hamburg. Still, he was champion at Garros two years
ago, becoming only the fifth man in tennis history to win all four Slams at
least once. Agassi's superior conditioning gives him a huge asset in the
lengthy points, games, and matches common on clay.
Otherwise, U.S. chances seem weak. Todd Martin, Michael Chang, and Mike
Gambill seem unlikely to survive more than one or two matches against the
likes of the armada. Sampras revealed his seriousness of purpose by entering
the Italian and German Opens along with the final clay tuneup at Dusseldorf.
Pete lost most of his outings, but he showed clear progress including wins
over Squillari and Grosjean. An exciting newcomer is teen-aged Andy Roddick,
whose serving and volleying skills seem best suited to fast courts but who
recently captured clay events in Atlanta and Houston, the latter on red clay
imported from Europe. Most impressive were Roddick's second serve, which
seemed to explode upward and accelerate off the clay-court bounce, along with
his ability to hold down errors both in patient baseline exchanges and also
in delivering high-energy attacking shots to the corners. He is also quite
athletic in close-in cat-and-mouse exchanges. The top Spanish and Argentine
players did not compete in these events, but Roddick defeated several very
fine European artists on their preferred surface. Last summer I watched him
overcome several top-100 European players on slowish hard courts in
Washington. It is clear that Roddick, who is already close to matching
Sampras in serving and volleying ability, is also a serious contender on
clay. This will be his first appearance at Garros. Being unseeded, he will
probably meet seeded opponents early.
The Australian lineup in singles is, as always, interesting. Mark
Philippoussis is sidelined following knee re-surgery, and Pat Rafter has not
yet reached former heights following elbow surgery. Lleyton Hewitt remains a
strong candidate to win the tournament. He reached the recent semis at
Hamburg where he competed well against Portas. Hewitt is probably still
improving, and his experience with the footing and the bounces on clay is
surely improving. His typically flattish ground strokes argue against his
chances, while his limitations in physical size and his past stamina problems
will be tested.
One other superstar, not discussed above, stands out as prime favorite to win
the individual championship.
Brazilian Gustavo Kuerten, 24, Garros champion in 1997 and again last year,
offers superior power in serving and from both sides. Guga's lanky, relaxed
frame generates endless rocketry difficult for any opponent to withstand. He
is capable of patient baseline play, though he sometimes whips unexpected
winners from back court. He moves easily over the court, and operates in
forecourt with sophisticated aggressiveness and touch. Kuerten ended 2000 by
winning the Masters Cup in Lisbon, defeating Sampras and Agassi in six
consecutive sets. He thus finished the year atop the ATP point standings,
ending an eight-year run by Americans (Agassi, Sampras, and Courier). This
spring, he triumphed on clay at Monte Carlo and reached the final at Rome,
where he lost to Ferrero in five sets. His unexpected first-round loss in the
German should translate into a valuable period of rest in preparation for
Other clay artists highly capable of reaching the late rounds are Pavel of
Romania, Medvedev of Ukraine, and Lapentti of Ecuador.
Which contingent will win the unofficial nation's crown? It seems to me that
Spain's depth in singles will provide enough victories to outweigh excellent
runs by Hewitt and possibly Rafter along with traditional Australian strength
Here are the odds as I see them to win the men's singles:
Norman, Corretja, each 30-1
Grosjean, Safin, Sampras, Rafter, each 45-1
all others, 50-1 or longer
We look at the eight sections of the main draw:
Kuerten (1), Gambill (15), Malisse, Coria, Calleri, Levy. Kuerten starts
against Coria but if he survives the teenager his path seems clear. Kuerten.
Kafelnikov (7), Clement (12), Gaudio, Puerta, T. Martin, Hrbaty. It's hard to
pass on Kafelnikov but Clement defeated him comfortably last week. Clement.
Ferrero (4), Enqvist (14), Pavel, Ilie, Koubek, Novak, Gustafsson. Pavel is
Ferrero's most dangerous threat here. Ferrero.
Hewitt (6), Henman (11), Chang, Roddick, Bjorkman, Canas. Hewitt meets young
Roddick before facing Henman, but he should make it through here. Hewitt.
Sampras (5), Grosjean (10), Medvedev. Escude, Haas, Blanco. A good draw for
Sampras. Escude is close to Grosjean and may be ahead on clay. Escude.
Agassi (3), Squillari (16), A. Costa, Lapentti, Vinciguerra, Boutter. The
road is not easy but Agassi should prevail. Agassi.
Rafter (8), Norman (9), Rios, Federer, Moya, Kiefer, Balcells. The Swedish
star has the weaponry and determination. Norman.
Safin (2), Corretja (13), Santoro, Arazi, Vicente, Zabaleta, Portas. Lots of
clay-court talent here, dooming Safin. Portas has too much firepower for
crafty Corretja. Portas.
The quarter-finals will be interesting. I pick Kuerten over Clement, Hewitt
over a less-than-healthy Ferrero, Agassi over Escude, and Portas over Norman.
Next, Kuerten and Agassi will win their semi-final matches. Finally, Kuerten
will win the tournament, defeating Agassi in a classic final.
THE WOMEN'S SINGLES
During the four years prior to 2001, four women held a near-monopoly in the
winning of Slams other than at Garros. Martina Hingis, Lindsay Davenport, and
the Williams sisters captured 11 of the 12 Australian Opens, Wimbledons, and
U.S. Opens during the period. (Only Novotna's thrilling Wimbledon triumph in
1998 broke the pattern.)
But no member of the aforementioned Big Four has yet captured Roland Garros.
Perhaps it is that physically large and powerful players like Venus and
Davenport find court mobility more difficult on clay, even as the effect of
their own big serves and ground strokes are reduced by the relatively slow
bounce. Still, the group's dominance elsewhere makes their lack of success at
Garros surprising, especially given our observations last month that
clay-court and fast-court results in top women's tennis are less divergent
than among the men.
We nevertheless count the Big Four among the prime candidates to win at
Garros, albeit cautiously. All four are young, and all when healthy still
play at their career bests. Hingis currently stands atop the running 12-month
WTA rankings, while Venus and Davenport are second and third, respectively.
Serena is farther back, having been sidelined last fall with a stress
fracture in the right foot and now with a nagging knee injury.
Jennifer Capriati's convincing victory in the Australian Open this year,
defeating Davenport and Hingis, announced that the Big Four were now the Big
Five. An interesting succession of head-to-head meetings on hard courts then
ensued among the Five. Davenport won the Pan-Pacific in Tokyo and the
tournament at Scottsdale. Serena captured Indian Wells, Venus the Ericsson.
Marring this superb stretch of competition was Venus's controversial
withdrawal from Indian Wells just before a semi-final meeting with Serena.
The Five then became Six. Strong-hitting Amelie Mauresmo, who extended Venus
to three sets at Melbourne Park, then captured hard-court indoor events in
Paris and Nice. She skipped Indian Wells and the Ericsson in Miami to prepare
for the clay-court tournaments to come, and then won the green-clay
tournament at Amelia Island, Florida. Mauresmo faltered to Hingis the
following week at Charleston, where Capriati won the event.
Mauresmo, Capriati, and Hingis competed in the clay-court German and Italian
Opens. Mauresmo defeated Hingis in both events, defeated Capriati in the
Berlin final, and lost to teenager Jelena Dokic in the final at Rome. In
winning over Capriati, Mauresmo showed the greater variety in shot-making,
including superior use of heavy topspin off both sides as well as in use of
angled shots. Dokic's win was unexpected, but her overall 10-2 record on
European clay this month argues that her relative inexperience on that
surface is fast ending.
There is little recent evidence to help in assessing the chances of Davenport
and the Williamses at Garros. All three have knee troubles. Neither Serena
nor Davenport have yet competed on clay this year, and ultimate success at
Garros seems unlikely in both cases. Venus Williams comfortably won the
clay-court Barclay Cup event in Germany, achieving a one-sided score against
Dokic, but then lost early in Berlin and missed the Italian because of her
knee. But even if she is slowed by injury, Venus's talent and physical
strength place her among the tournament favorites.
Several other stars merit note, though their chances of capturing Garros seem
small. The Spanish veterans Sanchez-Vicario and Martinez have been competing
effectively this spring. Sanchez-Vicario is a three-time Garros champion, and
Martinez was runner-up last year. Justine Henin defeated Venus at Berlin
before retiring against Capriati with a leg injury. Mary Pierce and Monica
Seles are out. Anke Huber missed the early clay season with wrist trouble.
In our mythical team competition the U.S. women should comfortably prevail,
claiming four Big Six members. Spain and France should also score well.
Here are the singles odds:
Capriati, Mauresmo, each 4-1
Venus Williams, 5-1
Serena Williams, 20-1
Dokic, Huber, Seles, Martinez, Henin, each 45-1
all others, 50-1 or longer
Hingis (1), Maleeva (13), Leon Garcia, Dominikovic. Smooth sailing for the
Swiss Miss. Hingis.
C. Martinez (8), Coetzer (10), Sidot, Montolio, Boogert, Ruano Pascual.
Coetzer on clay should defend her seed and go one better. Coetzer.
Capriati (4), Shaughnessy (16), Garbin, Weingartner, Tu. Shaughnessy has been
climbing rapidly, but Capriati has all the weapons. Capriati.
S. Williams (6), Sanchez-Vicario (11), Frazier, Serna, Pitkowski. Serena is
doomed by inadequate recent clay-court competition. Sanchez-Vicario.
Dementieva (7), Clijsters (12), Dechy, Nagyova, Marrero, Kruger. Dementieva
is returning from foot injury, and Clijsters is not yet a threat on clay. The
opening is there for Dechy.
Davenport (3), Dokic (15), Sugiyama, Majoli, Grande, de los Rios. The
showdown between Davenport and Dokic could be memorable. Dokic.
Mauresmo (5), Tauziat (9), Chladkova, Farina Elia, Kuti Kis. Not an easy road
here for Mauresmo, but she should come through. Mauresmo.
V. Williams (2), Henin (14), Schett, Suarez, Testud, Talaja, Huber. Nothing
easy here for Venus starting with formidable Schett. Nor is Henin certain to
advance over Huber. The clear choice must be Venus. Williams.
In the quarters, Hingis should win over Coetzer, Capriati over
Sanchez-Vicario, Dokic over Dechy, and, in our only surprise, Mauresmo over
Williams. Then in the semis, Capriati will be too strong for Hingis, and
Mauresmo too solid for Dokic. Mauresmo will then win the tournament by
Finally, as to the unofficial competition among the tennis nations, we choose
Spain to capture the men's crown, the U.S. to win the women's, and Spain,
narrowly over France, to achieve the highest men's and women's combined
Warm wishes to tennis watchers worldwide for a splendid Garros.