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Paris Main Stage Set for Show

French Open's premier court will have Serena Williams, Agassi, Mauresmo and Federer on opening day.

May 26, 2003|Diane Pucin | Times Staff Writer

PARIS — One would not go wrong picking the French Open men's and women's winners from among the players who will be on Court Philippe Chatrier today.

Defending champion Serena Williams, who has been practicing in Monte Carlo and who had to defend her interest in tennis to European writers after they suggested tennis is only a sidelight to her now, opens play at 11 a.m., Paris time, against German veteran Barbara Rittner.

"I have to remember," Williams said, "that tennis is my No. 1 bread-maker right now, so I have to kind of stick to that, whether I want to or whether I don't. Obviously, I really do."

Following Williams on the premier show court at Stade Roland Garros is flashy shot-maker Roger Federer of Switzerland, the No. 5-seeded player who has seemed primed for three years to win a Grand Slam tournament, especially this one on red clay. Federer plays 22-year-old Luis Horna of Peru in a match that should be a snap for Federer, 21.

French favorite Amelie Mauresmo, who handed Williams one of her two losses this year, comes next, against another Frenchwoman, Virginie Razzano. And then family man Andre Agassi, who owns one French Open among his eight Grand Slam titles, makes his 15th appearance here by opening against 21-year-old Karol Beck of Slovakia. Beck is playing in his first French Open. Agassi recently announced he and his wife Steffi Graf are awaiting the birth of their second child.

Williams, who has won the last four Grand Slam events, starting with the 2002 French Open, said Sunday: "My fitness is unbelievable right now. I don't get tired."

Her fitness had come into question because of the way she lost, 1-6, 7-5, 6-3, to Mauresmo in the semifinals of the Italian Open earlier this month. It appeared Williams ran out of energy in the final set.Williams said she has been working on more than fitness too.

"I've worked on changing a few things in my game," she said. "I might not win with all that now, but in a few months it will really come to show, the things I've been working on.

"The losses I had were good because I got the feel of what I needed to do and some things I might want to work on. I realize everybody really wants to beat the No. 1 player, to take them out, to see where their games match up against mine."

On Court 7 will be two interesting first-round matches. James Blake, seeded No. 24, will face big-serving Taylor Dent in a battle of young Americans, right after a battle of young Russians Anastasia Myskina, seeded No. 11, and Dinara Safina, the sister of Marat Safin.

*

French Open

* When: Today through June 8.

* Where: Stade Roland Garros, Paris.

* TV: ESPN2; coverage begins at 5 a.m.

* Defending champions: Men, Albert Costa, Spain; Women, Serena Williams.

* Chang farewell: 1989 French Open champion Michael Chang received a wild card and faces Fabrice Santoro of France in the first round.

* All-American first-round men's match: Taylor Dent vs. No. 24 James Blake.

* All-American first-round women's matches: Venus Williams (3) vs. Samantha Reeves; Laura Granville (31) vs. Meilen Tu.

* U.S. men's entries: Andre Agassi, Chang, Dent, Blake, Brian Vahaly, Mardy Fish, Todd Martin, Jan-Michael Gambill, Andy Roddick, Vince Spadea, Cecil Mamiit, Justin Gimelstob. Alex Kim was the only American to advance through qualifying round.

* U.S. women's entries: S. Williams, Rubin, Capriati, V. Williams, Lindsay Davenport, Granville, Tu, Meghann Shaughnessy, Sarah Taylor, Ashley Harkleroad, Jill Craybas, Alexandra Stevenson, Lisa Raymond, Marissa Irvin, Monica Seles, Ansley Cargill, Corina Morariu, Lindsay Lee-Waters, Amy Frazier. No U.S. women advanced through qualifying, but Samatha Reeves enters the draw as a lucky loser after the withdrawal of Tatiana Panova.

* Top-seeded players:

MEN

1. Lleyton Hewitt, Australia.

2. Andre Agassi.

3. Juan Carlos Ferrero, Spain.

4. Carlos Moya, Spain.

5. Roger Federer, Switzerland.

6. Andy Roddick.

7. Guillermo Coria, Argentina.

8. David Nalbandian, Argentina.

WOMEN

1. Serena Williams.

2. Kim Clijsters, Belgium.

3. Venus Williams.

4. Justine Henin-Hardenne, Belgium.

5. Amelie Mauresmo, France.

6. Lindsay Davenport.

7. Jennifer Capriati.

8. Chanda Rubin.

* Today's featured matches: Women -- S. Williams (1) vs. Barbara Rittner, Germany; Henin-Hardenne (4), Belgium, vs. Patricia Wartusch, Austria; Mauresmo (5), France, vs. Virginie Razzano, France; Rubin (8) vs. Henrieta Nagyova, Slovakia; Mary Pierce, France, vs. Clarisa Fernandez (28), Argentina.

Men -- Agassi (2) vs. Karol Beck, Slovakia; Moya, Spain, (4) vs. Filippo Volandri, Italy; Federer (5), Switzerland, vs. Luis Horna, Peru.

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