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Pierce can't be counted out in Paris
By KEITH NIEBUHR
Published May 17, 2005
Picking a female dark horse for the French Open is a difficult task. Of course, the same can be said of any major.
That's because the sport is top heavy.
More often than not, the Grand Slams crown highly ranked champions (see Serena Williams , Lindsay Davenport, Justine Henin-Hardenne and Maria Sharapova ), not unknowns or fading greats. It's rare that anybody from the back of the pack sneaks her way to the final.
That being said, there are players who, if the stars are aligned, can be a threat. A player such as Mary Pierce . Yes, that Mary Pierce.
Now 30, Pierce is ranked No. 24 (just seven spots behind recent No. 1 Kim Clijsters ), her best charting in recent memory. The Sarasota native, a strong clay player, has performed well in French tuneups, losing tight matches to Sharapova and Williams, and could be a factor in Paris.
Pierce won the French in 2000 but last made the quarters of a major three years ago.
Does she have anything left in the tank?
If so, Roland Garros fittingly would be the place for her to use it.
SERVING UP YOUTH: No. 5 Rafael Nadal , 18, is the first teenager to win five ATP titles in a season since Andre Agassi won six in 1988. Mats Wilander , with nine in 1983, holds the record and Bjorn Borg , who later gained fame for his stellar play at Wimbledon, is next with seven in 1974.
"You have to start with his competitive instincts," former No. 1 and Dade City native Jim Courier said. "He just loves the battle and it doesn't matter whether he wins or loses the first set, he comes right back in the second ready to go."
DOUBLE SHOT: The United States Tennis Association has purchased an ATP tournament to create the first combined men's and women's summer tournament leading into the U.S. Open. The new men's event, previously played on Long Island, will be added to the WTA Tour's existing Pilot Pen tournament (already owned by the USTA), played in New Haven, Conn., and conclude the weekend before the Open.
The USTA hopes to use this event to boost its U.S. Open series, a six-week summer season that links all major ATP and WTA tournaments in North America to the Open. The men's and women's U.S. Open series winners will compete for double prize money at the Open.
AREA HONOR: Pinellas County native Lisa Lauck , general manager of the World TeamTennis league's Philadelphia Freedoms, was named the 2005 Rising Star Award winner by the National Association for Female Executives. Lauck, who attended St. Petersburg High, began her career with WTT in 2002 as director of marketing and operations and was promoted to general manager last year. Her duties include recruiting and drafting players, corporate sponsorships, community relations and marketing.
ODDS AND ENDS: Vincent Spadea , ranked No. 43 (fourth best among Americans), has launched his official Web site, vincespadea.com. The site informs fans about his progress and provides instructional tips and videos. ... The Tennis Channel celebrated its second anniversary last weekend. The station was launched May 15, 2003, and had 1,200 hours of tournament coverage that year. In 2005, the number will surpass 2,500. ... The June issue of Vogue calls Australian Open champ Marat Safin someone "People are talking about." Right now, people are talking about how poorly he's playing. Safin has lost in the second round in each of the past three events.
LAST WORD: "I don't know if I'm going to be anywhere next year really. Every week I feel like I'm not sure for the next year." - Agassi, 35, after losing in the first round last week in Hamburg, Germany. The eight-time major champion is No. 7 in the ATP rankings.
--Information from Times wires was used in the report.