Tennis: French collection: The kings and queens of clay

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The Independent Online
ALBERTO BERASATEGUI

THE likeable Basque hit the headlines when reaching the French Open final in 1994. At 5ft 8in and with a forehand grip so exaggerated he hits forehand and backhand off the same side of the racket, many thought he would be found out by the big hitters after finishing 1994 in the top 10. But he has proved hard to brush aside and is one of this year's form players. Beat Andre Agassi to reach the quarter-finals of the Australian Open, won Estoril, lost in final in Barcelona and semi-finals in Monte Carlo. Genuine contender if he hasn't taken too much out of himself this spring. Ranked 16.

ALEX CORRETJA

LET a great chance slip at last year's French Open when, with the seeds tumbling, the Spaniard's route looked clear to the final, only for him to play an awful fourth-round match against Filip Dewulf. Highly articulate and elected by fellow professionals to be ATP Tour player council president, he won his first hardcourt title this year in Dubai, and made it to the final on clay in Hamburg but pulled out mid-match through illness. Has good match temperament and the necessary fitness, though tendency to stand well behind the baseline makes him vulnerable to on-form big hitters. Ranked 14.

THOMAS MUSTER

IF Petr Korda can win the Australian Open at 30, why not Thomas Muster the French at the same age. Unlikely, but by no means impossible, given that the 1995 champion knows what it takes to win at Roland Garros. Last year he switched to a different racket to play better on hard courts - it worked, but his clay-court game went to pot. Now back with his old racket his results on clay have been better, though a final in Estoril and a quarter-final in Hamburg are still well short of 1995 form. The French is the most gruelling of the Slams, but Muster still refuses to accept defeat. Ranked 22.

ANNA KOURNIKOVA

THE most photographed player on the circuit is now proving she has the ability to go with her looks. Finally beat Martina Hingis last week in Berlin but ran out of steam in semi-finals against Conchita Martinez. First tour final came in March in Key Biscayne but she was outclassed by Venus Williams, confirming the Russian's gripe that the change of age eligibility rules in 1994 disadvantaged her against the older Hingis and Williams. No surface is an obstacle to her hard-hitting game. Reached third round in Paris last year, but is a more complete player. Turns 17 day after women's final. Ranked 13.

CONCHITA MARTINEZ

THE 1994 Wimbledon champion has reinvented herself this year, reaching Australian Open final and winning first tournament for 18 months in Berlin last week. Much credit goes to coach of 11 months, Gabriel Urpi, who took Arantxa Sanchez Vicario to French and US Open titles in 1994. Still not high on confidence, the 26-year-old Spaniard is nevertheless having some success countering super-confident power games of the burgeoning teenage generation. Clay is her favourite surface; she went 26 matches unbeaten on it in 1995 until Steffi Graf beat her in the French semi-finals. Ranked 7.

MONICA SELES

THE 1990, '91 and '92 champion has been out of contention for the bulk of this year, spending as much time as possible with her ailing father Karolj, who died two weeks ago. She has signalled her intention to return to the top by practising hard and losing 10lb. As the player who took the women's game into a new era of power hitting in the early 1990s, she should have no trouble matching the new generation for ammunition, and won't play a big hitter until at least the quarter-finals. Along with Arantxa Sanchez Vicario and Iva Majoli, the 24-year-old is the only past champion in the field. Ranked 6th.

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