The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Records beckon Agassi, Serena looks a cinch

Paris: Records hang in the air, tempting Andre Agassi. Fears lurk, taunting Lleyton Hewitt and an emotional farewell beckons for one of the French Open’s fairytale characters when the second Grand Slam of the year slides into action Monday.

For Agassi, just one more win at the Parisian showpiece will leapfrog him over Mats Wilander in the list of all-time wins on the Roland Garros red clay. Only Guillermo Vilas, Ivan Lendl, Nicola Pietrangeli and Bjorn Borg have won more matches at the famous arena.

A second-round win would draw him level with Pete Sampras on 762 career victories — a record for an active player. And a second triumph at Roland Garros would make Agassi the first man since Jim Courier in 1992 to win the first two Grand Slams of the year.

“I’m at a place in my career where I have the luxury of using my experience,” Agassi said. “Most people who have my experience aren’t playing any more. My body is still holding up, my mind is still eager and my heart still wants it.”

Hewitt also “wants it” but knows fear of failure and lack of confidence must be conquered first.

“Maybe I have to work a bit harder on clay,” the top seed said earlier this week. “It’s a challenge and I’ve always liked challenges. Whether I will ever win Roland Garros and master playing on clay, who knows' But I’ll give it a shot.”

One who gave it a great shot and achieved records, is Michael Chang who, in 1989, defeated Stefan Edberg in five sets to become the youngest Roland Garros and Grand Slam champion at the age of 17 years, three months.

This year he will make his 16th consecutive appearance at the tournament. It will also be his last.

With an ATP-best 38-8 record in 2003 and lying in second spot behind ATP Champions Race leader Agassi, Roger Federer is in prime position to mount a challenge for his first Grand Slam title here. The Swiss, who reached the quarter finals in Paris in 2001, will hope to erase the memory of his first-round loss to Hicham Arazi 12 months ago.

Spaniard Albert Costa, seeded ninth, begins against Argentine qualifier Sergio Roitman but admits it will be tough defending his title what with Hewitt, two-time champion Gustavo Kuerten and young French hope Richard Gasquet all with him in the top half of the draw. After finishing the year in the top-10 for the first time, following his first Grand Slam title, Costa has not won a tournament and is hoping to rekindle the fire on clay here.

The women’s scene

In the women’s draw it is hard to see who can stop Serena Williams. Elder sister Venus, Belgians Kim Clijsters, Justine Henin-Hardenne and America’s Jennifer Capriati are all ferocious competitors but an in-form Serena is irrepressible.“My fitness is unbelievable right now,” Serena said after a brief practice session on the Parisian clay.

“I just don’t get tired. I’ve been really working on my fitness so I am in really good shape right now… I think Roland Garros is really, really special for me.”

Serena will be going for her fifth straight major title, something last accomplished by Steffi Graf. But the fact that the 21-year-old American arrives on the back of losses to Henin-Hardenne and Amelie Mauresmo should give rivals heart. “She can be frustrated,” warned Henin-Hardenne. “I think it’s good for the other players that we can see that.”

Yet another all-Williams Grand Slam final is not certain as Venus, who is yet to conquer Paris, is short on match-play and form after pulling a stomach muscle before the German Open.

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