Monday, May 26, 2003

The men's favorite? It's anyone's guess

Challengers are plentiful for champ Costa

The Associated Press

PARIS - Pete Sampras never won the French Open. Neither did John McEnroe or Stefan Edberg. Jimmy Connors and Boris Becker didn't reach a final at Roland Garros.

All had plenty of success elsewhere, of course: a total of 37 Grand Slam titles.

On the other hand, the list of French Open champions does include such one-hit wonders as Michael Chang (1989), Andres Gomez (1990) and Thomas Muster (1995).

Albert Costa might be destined to join the group of men with one major triumph, but he made clear Sunday that's OK with him as he prepares to defend his French Open title.

"I'm not feeling the pressure," the Spaniard said. "Now, I don't care. If I play good, I'm going to have a good ranking. If I play bad, I'm not going to have a good ranking. Things are simple."

What's far from simple is predicting which man will win the year's second Grand Slam event. While it's hard to imagine someone other than a Williams or a Belgian taking the women's title, the men's field is wide open, as usual.

Costa put the number of contenders at about 20 and started rattling off a veritable "Who's Who" of tennis.

"A lot of players can win here. If I have to choose two, I will choose Ferrero and Moya," he said. "There are a lot of players that can do really good on clay. Argentines are very good. The Spanish are really good. There are some others, like Agassi, Kuerten."

Those he mentioned do have strong credentials:

• No. 3-seeded Juan Carlos Ferrero reached last year's final and has gone 21-2 on clay in 2003, with titles at Monte Carlo and Valencia.

• No. 4 Carlos Moya is the only other man with two clay titles this year, and he won the 1998 French Open (his lone major title, by the way).

• No. 15 Gustavo Kuerten is a three-time champion at Roland Garros (and never has been past the quarterfinals at another major).

• No. 2 Andre Agassi counts the 1999 French Open among his eight career Grand Slam titles, including this year's Australian Open. At 33, he also happens to be the oldest player in the 128-man field.

There are others in the mix, too, such as top-ranked Lleyton Hewitt and No. 5 Roger Federer (12-2 on clay this year).

Since 1983, eight men who won the French Open failed to duplicate that success at the Australian Open, Wimbledon or U.S. Open (does the name "Sergi Bruguera" ring a bell?).

Costa is the epitome of a come-from-nowhere major champion.

Last year's French Open is his only singles title at any level since August 1999, a stretch of 88 events.

"The most important thing is to believe that you can win this tournament," Costa said Sunday.

Today at a glance

TV coverage: 8 a.m., ESPN2

Featured Men's Matches: No. 2 Andre Agassi vs. Karol Beck; No. 4 Carlos Moya vs. Filippo Volandri, No. 5 Roger Federer vs. Luis Horna.

Featured Women: No. 1 Serena Williams vs. Barbara Rittner, No. 4 Justine Henin-Hardenne vs. Patricia Wartusch, No. 5 Amelie Mauresmo vs. Virginie Razzano.

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The men's favorite? It's anyone's guess
French Open: Men at a glance
French Open: Women at a glance

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Monday's sports on TV, radio