Sampras targets French Open

Sport-BY-SPORT GUIDE TO 1995: Trinidad's finest to set tempo for visit of calypso cricketers as Ryder Cup heads for Rochester : TENNIS
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The Independent Online
Those past masters Rod Laver and Bjorn Borg are likely to merit honorable mentions in 1995, a year which presents the current leading men with stimulating targets.

No male has won each of the major championships of Australia, France, Wimbledon and the United States, let alone strung the four together, since Laver's second Grand Slam, in 1969.

Sampras, fancied to emulate Laver in 1994, fell short in Paris, where he was unable to match the clay-court expertise of Jim Courier, and in New York, where Jaime Yzaga capitalised on the Californian's physical exhaustion.

The world No 1 will start the year favoured to make a successful defence in Australia, ailments permitting. If he can rise to his greatest challenge, at the French Open, his collection of the major trophies will be complete.

Andre Agassi has emerged as a serious rival. Having overcome problems with injuries and commitment to add the US Open title to his 1992 Wimbledon triumph, the Las Vegan approaches the new campaign ranked No 2.

He is due to make his first appearance at the Australian Open, where the rubberised concrete courts sufficiently resemble those at Flushing Meadow to suit his game. The Paris clay demands stamina and patience as well as punishing groundstrokes, as Agass i knows from his experience as a finalist in 1990 and 1991. We may discover how much he has improved.

Borg made his name on the courts of Paris and London, winning the French title six times, Wimbledon five times consecutively, and marrying the two together on three occasions.

Sergi Bruguera, who has worked hard to adapt his irrepressible baseline style to surfaces other than clay, could become the first player to win the French championship for three consecutive years since Borg, who extended his sequence to four in 1981.

Sampras's serve-volley style is tailored for the Wimbledon lawns on which the baseliner Borg used his speed, concentration and top-spin to astonishing effect. The American could complete the first hat-trick since the Swede, who, after 1978, went on to savour two more years of glory.

The women's game, which proved to be more varied and interesting in 1994 than was anticipated, is beset with problems, not least the commercial headache of obtaining sponsorship for the tour.

Personalities do not abound in the absence of the retired Martina Navratilova and the stabbing victim Monica Seles, who has given no indication of a comeback. Steffi Graf, who remains the world No 1 in spite of being eclipsed by Arantxa Sanchez Vicario in the major championships, may face her biggest battle in 1995 -against a chronic back injury.