French Open showcases a new tennis trio

The tennis world is going gaga over "Guga."

Lately, Gustavo "Guga" Kuerten has been in such triumphant form, that even though he's seeded fifth at the French Open, which begins Monday, the stringy Brazilian has emerged as the consensus player to beat, according to his rivals.

And more than at any other Grand Slam locale, French fans at the Stade Roland Garros have gone gaga over Guga. Ever since he won the title three years ago, as an unseeded player, Parisians have been enamored by his dynamite game, dashing looks, and earthy demeanor.

As Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras are slowly heading toward tennis twilight - at least going by recent form - a new triumvirate is taking shape: Kuerten, Magnus Norman of Sweden, and Marat Safin of Russia. All three have had sizzling years, and their games are chiseled for the slow red clay of Roland Garros.

While Norman will go into Paris as the hottest player, he has struggled in the best-of-five sets format. On Sunday Kuerten beat Safin in a close match to capture the German Open, the only major clay-court title missing from his rsum.

Agassi and Sampras, meanwhile, have had little success on clay this year, while No. 4 Yevgeny Kafelnikov is going through his annual second-quarter stupor.

For the past two years, women's tennis has been in the salad days of a generational shift. But this year the women's game has been a bore, except for off-court happenings. Venus Williams's father, Richard, announced in April that Venus is considering retirement at 19 to focus on education and business investments. She has lost twice in four matches since returning this month from a six-month layoff caused by physical problems.

And Martina Hingis, the No.1 seed at the French Open, who last year at the same venue threw unseemly tantrums and apologized for having "lost my mind," has become a World Health Organization goodwill ambassador.

Hingis still appears the most likely to capture the only Grand Slam title still to elude her impressive list. Her biggest challenger, second seed Lindsay Davenport, is nursing injuries and has seemed like a doubtful starter for the past two weeks.

And just when it looked to many as if there were no one to challenge Hingis in Paris, Monica Seles has reemerged, displaying the old grit and line-drive groundstrokes that put her on top of the game during the early '90s. Seles has won 22 of her 26 matches, moving up to No. 3 in the Women's Tennis Association rankings.

Meanwhile, hometown favorite Amelie Mauresmo has turned up her game a few notches and appears to be in the best shape since she came into the spotlight at last year's Australian Open.

The side show: Martina Navratilova's return to professional tennis. She's scheduled to compete in the doubles competition at the French Open.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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