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Champions to cheer for

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Posted: Sunday June 10, 2001 4:27 PM

By Marc Lancaster,

Tennis Week at a Glance
The Number
Aces/Double Faults
Drop Shots
They Said It
Looking Ahead

American tennis fans don't seem to hold the French Open quite on the same level as the two summer slams at Wimbledon and Flushing Meadows, but it was hard to avoid watching this year's action at Roland Garros with interest -- and a smile.

Yes, John McEnroe repeated it over and over during television coverage the last two weeks, but it's worth saying again: Jennifer Capriati has been the best story in tennis -- if not all of sports -- this year.

She earned her final three victories in a depleted draw by putting away the top two players remaining, Serena Williams and Martina Hingis, then edged Kim Clijsters in a classic 12-10 third set in the final. Capriati has become an international sweetheart, a player even the notoriously fickle French can't dislike, and it's a joy to behold.

On the men's side, joy is also the key emotion in assessing Gustavo Kuerten. The man simply has fun playing the game, and he is nothing if not genuine. His drawings in the clay will go down in tennis lore, and he is already on the way to being one of the all-time greats. Bjorn Borg won six times at Roland Garros, and Kuerten is halfway to matching that streak -- at age 24.

You get the feeling the best is yet to come from both deserving champions.

Small country, big talent

The women are catching up to the waffles. Belgium finally has an export to rival the breakfast food in popularity. Teen stars Clijsters and Justine Henin made waves during the fortnight in Paris, each celebrating a birthday (Clijsters' 18th, Henin's 19th) and both making the semifinals. They played each other in the semis, a win-win situation for a country that isn't known for producing tennis stars. By the time Clijsters took the court for what turned out to be a brilliant final against Capriati, her rooting section included a handful of members of Belgium's royal family. Bottom line: Clijsters and Henin are young, they're talented, and they're going to be around for a while.

Together again

Doubles play gets little attention and zero TV time at most Grand Slams, especially when the final is between doubles specialists and doesn't include a marquee singles name or two. But the accomplishments of the men's doubles champs at Roland Garros are worth an extra mention. India's Mahesh Bhupathi and Leander Paes, who won in Paris two years ago, reunited after spending 2000 apart and rolled through the field to win another title. The unseeded pair tore through the draw, beating the No. 15, No. 3, No. 11 and No. 13 seeds en route to the victory. They are national heroes in their country, where their victory was front-page news in every paper. "Awesome twosome" was the headline over a photo in the Times of India. This looks like the continuation of a beautiful partnership.

The Number
  Men to successfully defend their singles title at the French Open. The last to do it before Kuerten was Sergi Bruguera in 1993-94.  
Aces/Double Faults
ACE Alex Corretja The Spanish veteran fell short in his second attempt to win the French Open, but he played entertaining tennis throughout the tournament and kept it interesting throughout. Now, will he play Wimbledon?
DOUBLE FAULT Andre Agassi Yeah, the guy gets pretty focused on the court, but he doesn't really expect us to believe that he didn't even notice Bill Clinton sitting in the front row cheering him on during his quarterfinal loss, does he?
ACE Petra Mandula Hungary's best player made it through qualifying and all the way into the quarterfinals, where she lost to Clijsters to halt a remarkable two-week run.
DOUBLE FAULT Lleyton Hewitt The fiery Aussie went a bit too far in the ATP's estimation, and was fined $1,000 after an outburst during his fourth-round match. He called an umpire a "spastic" during that match, which drew the ire of the Spastic Center of Australia, but the fine was reportedly for another word.
ACE Virginia Ruano Pascual The doubles specialist teamed with Paola Suarez to take women's doubles and with Tomas Carbonell to win mixed doubles, becoming the first player to capture both since Pam Shriver in '87.
Drop Shots
Perhaps trying to boost their bid for the 2008 Olympics, the folks in Paris brought in a couple of Olympians to help with the singles trophy presentations. Sprinter Maurice Greene handed the trophy off to Capriati, while judo medalist David Douillet of France did the same with Kuerten.
A highlight of the week for some was the Monday soccer game at Parc des Princes, home of perennial French league power Paris St. Germain. A team composed of French players, including Arnaud Clement and Nicolas Escude, posted a 6-4 win over a world team that featured McEnroe and star of the moment Michael Russell.
Doing their best to keep the players happy, 43 stringers worked on 17 machines over the course of the tournament. They strung an average of 100 rackets a day, with a high of 323 on the first day of play.
With his win over Corretja in the final, Kuerten now has a record of 42-18 in his career against Spanish players, winning 13 of the last 14. The last Spaniard to defeat him was Juan Carlos Ferrero in the Rome final this year.
If you're on the lookout for future stars, keep an eye on the winners of the junior titles at Roland Garros. Estonia's Kaia Kanepi celebrated her 16th birthday Sunday by beating Svetlana Kuznetsova of Russia 6-3, 1-6, 6-2. In the boys' final, Spaniard Carlos Cuadrado crushed Brian Dabul of Argentina 6-1, 6-0 for the title.
The inaugural French Open auction seemed to be a big hit with the fans. Among items auctioned off this weekend in Paris were clay-stained sneakers and Fila cap worn (and autographed) by Capriati, which went for 2,500 francs -- roughly $330.
American up-and-comer Taylor Dent won his first Challenger title Sunday in Surbiton, England. Dent, ranked 165th, defeated a string of higher-ranked players in winning the grass-court tournament, including Byron Black in the semis and Neville Godwin in the final.
They Said It
"I'm just waiting to wake up from this dream. It doesn't seem like reality right now."
Capriati, reflecting on being halfway to a Grand Slam.
"You give him freedom, he's like Picasso."
Yevgeny Kafelnikov on Kuerten after a quarterfinal loss.
Looking ahead
This week - ATP Tour
It's time to hit the grass, as many of the top contenders begin preparations for Wimbledon at Queen's Club. Marat Safin, Pete Sampras and defending champ Hewitt lead a field that also includes Jan-Michael Gambill, Tim Henman and Andy Roddick. The other ATP event is in Halle, Germany, where Kafelnikov and Patrick Rafter are the top seeds at the Gerry Weber Open.
This week - WTA Tour
The grass event of the week is in Birmingham, England, where Jelena Dokic and Nathalie Tauziat lead the field, while Henin and Anna Kournikova have pulled out with injuries.
Next week - ATP Tour
A pair of tournaments on grass conclude the brief Wimbledon prelude. Both Nottingham and the Heineken Trophy in the Netherlands are 32-player draws.
Next week - WTA Tour
The women have their own draw at the Heineken, and another at Eastbourne.

Come back every Monday for a new Tennis Week at a Glance.

Related information
Last week's Glance: Men's field couldn't be better
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