French Open Begins

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The French Open begins in Paris. Lindsay Davenport is the women's top seed and Roger Federer is the men's top seed. Commentator John Feinstein discusses the premier — and often unpredictable — clay-court tournament.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Tennis' second major tournament of the year is under way this morning in Paris and the French Open does not have a clear-cut favorite in either the men's or the women's draw. Gaston Gaudio and Anastasia Myskina are the defending champions. Commentator John Feinstein joins me now.

Good morning, John.

JOHN FEINSTEIN commenting:

Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: So why wouldn't the defending champions be considered the favorites going into this tournament?

FEINSTEIN: Well, they both sort of came out of nowhere to win their titles last year. Gaudio was little known, as is often the case with male clay courters. Myskina was considered a solid player but certainly not considered the best of the Russians. Maria Sharapova, who won Wimbledon a couple weeks later, is certainly a bigger star than she was, but they both had their two-week runs in Paris last year. And there will be a lot of attention focused on them, but I think few people expect either of them to win again.

MONTAGNE: Roger Federer is clearly the number one player in the men's game. Why is he not the favorite?

FEINSTEIN: Well, it's the old story about star men and clay. This tournament has been the stumbling block for many great players. Pete Sampras never won it. Stefan Edberg never won it. Boris Becker never won it. John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors, the list is almost endless. And Federer, who has dominated on the other two surfaces--grass, winning the last two Wimbledons, and hard courts, winning both the US Open and the Australian--has never been past the quarter-finals in Paris. It's almost as if this red clay makes it into a different sport for these great male players.

MONTAGNE: Now there's one player in the man's game who's received a lot of attention lately but tell us: So who exactly is Rafael Nadal?

FEINSTEIN: Ah, he is the latest great young clay courter to rise out of the Spanish dust. And you go back to Manuel Santana and Sergei Bruguera. Spain has always produced great clay court players. Nadal is only 18. He helped lead Spain to the Davis Cup last December. Many people believe this is going to be his coming-out party, that he will win this French Open. And they also think he's got enough game to be successful on the other surfaces.

MONTAGNE: Let's turn now to the women. For your money, who stands out?

FEINSTEIN: Right now, nobody. There's just a whole list of women's players who have all played well at times this year. Justine Henin-Hardenne, who was number one a couple of years ago, is coming back very well from injury. Maria Sharapova's been on the verge of getting to number one. There's a whole list of players who could win which should make the second week of this event fascinating on the women's side of the draw because no one is dominant the way Serena Williams was a couple years ago.

MONTAGNE: The French, though, have a favorite.

FEINSTEIN: They do. Amelie Mauresmo, who has been ranked number one, has been ranked number two but has never been able to perform in Paris in front of her countrywomen and men. It's almost as if the pressure of being the hometown favorite is too much for her, but there's no doubt that, much like Yannick Noah back in the '80s, the entire country will be watching every time she steps on court.

MONTAGNE: John, it feels like we've asked and answered this ques--you've answered it many times in the last few years. OK. Here we go again. Will this be the last European swing for Andre Agassi?

FEINSTEIN: You're right. It seems like Andre's been on the verge of retirement for the last 10 years. He's now 35. He's still very competitive. The question becomes--now he's got two children at home--how much longer does he want to put in the time he has to to still be near the top of the game? At the moment, he seems to want to do it and, certainly, everybody in tennis loves having him around.

MONTAGNE: John, thanks.

FEINSTEIN: Thank you, Renee.

MONTAGNE: John Feinstein's most recent book is "Last Shot: A Final Four Mystery," his first young adult novel.

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