Federer aims to bury the French Open jinx

Federer aims to bury the French Open jinx

The Star Online
Monday May 24, 2004

Wimbledon and Australian Open champion Roger Federer will have to take
the hard road if he is bury his embarrassing French Open jinx when
the second Grand Slam event of the season gets underway here today.

The Swiss world number one, widely considered the finest player of
the current generation, has suffered successive first round defeats
on the slow, red clay of Roland Garros in the last two years.

To add to his problems, he could face triple Roland Garros champion
Gustavo Kuerten in the third round here with Argentina’s David
Nalbandian and former world number one Marat Safin of Russia waiting
to pounce later in the draw.

However, with defending champion Juan Carlos Ferrero horribly out of
form with a wrist injury and with serious doubts over US Open winner
Andy Roddick’s ability to adapt his booming game to the slow surface,
there may never be a better opportunity for Federer to triumph here.

Ferrero must face former world number two Tommy Haas of Germany in
his first round match.

Federer also has the added psychological advantage of having defeated
another leading rival Guillermo Coria in the final of the Hamburg
Masters, ending the Argentinian’s 31-match unbeaten run on clay in
the process.

“I’m more relaxed now. The last two years, I went to Paris with very
high hopes. I thought that if I had been in the quarter-finals of the
French Open in 2001 and had won Hamburg in 2002, I can do better at
the French,” said Federer whose win in Germany was his fourth of the
year and 15th of his career.

History says otherwise.

In 2002, he was dumped out of the first round here by Morocco’s Hicham
Arazi while last year it was the turn of Peru’s Luis Horna to take
the Swiss player’s scalp in straight sets.

Federer’s best showing here remains his 2001 quarter-final finish
and he is aware that with Ferrero having not played for a month,
it is Coria who remains a major threat.

The 22-year-old Argentinian is a master of clay where he has won
all of his eight titles, the most recent of which was in Monte Carlo
last month.

Reigning US Open champion Roddick also has a lot to prove.

Like Federer, he has lost in the first round here on his last two
visits with his 2003 exit at the hands of Armenia’s Sargis Sargsian
prompting him to enlist Andre Agassi’s former coach Brad Gilbert to
help him out of his slump.

It certainly had the desired effect with the young American taking
his first Grand Slam title at the US Open in September.

Agassi, now 34, remains many people’s sentimental favourite to add
the trophy to his 1999 triumph as he sets out on his 16th French
Open campaign.

But his build-up has not been impressive.

He made a first round exit at St Poelten on Monday at the hands of
world number 339 Nenad Zimonjic in what was his first clay court
outing of the season.

Safin will also be a contender after a miserable 2003 campaign which
was wrecked by injury.

The Russian was a semi-finalist here in 2002 and hammered home his
recovery by making the final of the Australian Open in January. – AFP