'97 champs look to mold revivals in clay Struggling Majoli, Kuerten set to open defenses in Paris

French Open

May 25, 1998|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

PARIS -- So, what happened to French Open champions Iva Majoli and Gustavo Kuerten after the applause stopped at Roland Garros in June?

The dream ending -- two unexpected, popular winners -- would be fine if it were a movie. But once the tour resumed, Majoli and Kuerten almost seemed caught in a Roland Garros freeze frame. Majoli has not won a tournament since. She hasn't been in a final and is clinging to a No. 10 ranking. Kuerten, at least, got to two finals in the summer, losing to Felix Mantilla at Bologna, Italy, and Chris Woodruff at Montreal.

Suffice to say, neither is favored to repeat when the French Open starts today. Top-ranked Martina Hingis, winner of four of the past five Grand Slam events, is aiming for her first French Open title. Her toughest competition is expected to come from Italian Open finalist Venus Williams, Anna Kournikova of Russia and German Open winner Conchita Martinez of Spain.

Williams lost in the second round here in 1997 in her Grand Slam debut. "I did OK last year," she said. "This year, I'll play better." Three-time champion Monica Seles, whose father died from cancer earlier this month, requested to play her first match tomorrow.

On the men's side, No. 1-ranked Pete Sampras also will be trying to win the only Grand Slam title to elude him. On clay, however, No. 3-ranked Marcelo Rios of Chile is favored, having won the Italian Open and St. Polten, Austria, the past two weeks.

As for Majoli and Kuerten, the results of the spring haven't exactly inspired confidence in either one of them, though the No. 8-ranked Kuerten did reach the Italian Open semifinals.

"The other players, they were more hungry to beat me because I wasn't just Iva Majoli, I was, like, the French Open champion," said the Croatian, who opens defense of her title today against Pavlina Stoyanova. "I had to be 200 percent ready every match. I don't know mentally if I was ready for all this."

Kuerten, an easygoing Brazilian who plays his opening-round match tomorrow against Charles Auffray of France, said he hasn't changed, not even opting to move into more luxurious accommodations this year in Paris.

"I'm in the Top 10. I want to stay there," he said. "That's much different. About life, it's almost the same. I think the main difference is people who see me [as] completely different."

Majoli spent part of last week at the Cannes Film Festival and was excited to hear actress Mira Sorvino might be coming to watch her play today.

Pub Date: 5/25/98

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