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French Open: Top five to watch

Times Staff Writer
Published May 23, 2004

JUSTINE HENIN-HARDENNE: The defending champion is the top seed and deservedly so. She has won three of the last four majors, a run that started last year at Roland Garros when she defeated Kim Clijsters in the final. Henin-Hardenne might be the best clay player in the women's game, but she has been slowed of late by a viral infection.

SERENA WILLIAMS: She likes the surface because she said it's easier on her knees, and her record in Paris seems to support that. She defeated sister Venus in the 2002 final and was a semifinalist last year. She won the Nasdaq-100 Open in the spring but has played in only 14 matches since July. A knee injury caused her to miss several months.

AMELIE MAURESMO: A top-flight clay player, the French star, surprisingly, never has fared very well at Roland Garros. Her best finish came last year, when she reached the quarterfinals. The third seed is 23-3 this year, 16-2 on clay. She has never won a major title and has but one appearance in a major final (1999 Australian Open).

VENUS WILLIAMS: Guess who's back in the picture? After a slow start to the season, she is 22-3 and 15-0 on clay. An abdominal strain kept her out of action for several months, but she appears to have rediscovered her game. But she has had mixed results at the French, and her last major championship was at the 2001 U.S. Open.

VERA ZVONAREVA: A good darkhorse pick. The 19-year-old Russian is seeded 10th and reached the quarterfinals a year ago when she upset Venus Williams in the fourth round. She has two singles titles (one this year), but might be ready to join the elite. She's 10-5 on clay in 2004, 23-10 overall this year.

JUAN CARLOS FERRERO: There might not be a better clay player than the defending French Open champion, but he enters as the fourth seed because he hasn't been spectacular in 2004. He has had chicken pox and a rib injury and last played April 20. Eight of his 11 singles titles have come on clay. He has reached the semifinals or better in all four French appearances.

ROGER FEDERER: Many call the top seed the game's most complete player. The Swiss star is seeded No. 1 at a major for the first time and enters already having won the Australian Open. He is 32-3 this year, 9-1 on clay. At 22, he already has 15 singles titles.

GUILLERMO CORIA: The 22-year-old is 16-1 on clay this year and recently had a 31-match clay winning streak ended by Federer. He was a semifinalist at Roland Garros last year and won the French Open junior title in 1999. However, he might be in the tournament's toughest draw.

CARLOS MOYA: The 27-year-old Spaniard won his lone major at the 1998 French. Though he has performed well on other surfaces, he is considered to be among the top clay specialists and is 24-5 on clay this year. If there's a knock against him, it's that he has melted under pressure at times.

ANDRE AGASSI: At 34, he might be the American best equipped to win. He won the event in 1999 and reached the quarters the past three years. One of five men with a career Grand Slam, he owns 58 career titles. In his past 12 majors, he has two championships and has reached the quarters or better 10 times.

- Compiled by Keith Niebuhr.

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