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  Friday, 26 January, 2001, 20:51 GMT
Clement's coming of age
Arnaud Clement
Clement is showing his Gallic flair at last
Arnaud Clement, on the verge of becoming France's first winner of the Australian Open since Jean Borotra in 1928, is finally fulfilling his potential.

While the 23-year-old is hardly a familiar name in the world of tennis, it looks as though this will change in 2001.

The headband- and shades-wearing Frenchman certainly has what it takes in the character stakes.

Now it is a question of whether he has the nerves to match his ability.

Unknown

When Clement met the new and improved Greg Rusedski, the Briton had just beaten number one seed Gustavo Kuerten.

But the Frenchman demolished Rusedski in three straight sets with speed and panache.

Clement was given credit for his impressive win, but no-one expected him to succeed against his next challenge, fifth seed Yevgeny Kafelnikov.

Again the 23-year-old went against the form book and completed a four set victory over the Russian.

Now Clement will fly the French flag in his first ever Grand Slam final as he hopes to stop Andre Agassi's attempt to win his second consecutive Australian Open title.


Clement also has good technique and is the quickest player on the tour
Patrice Hagelauer
French Tennis Association

For many, who have seen glimpses of Clement's amazing talent since he turned professional in 1996, there are cries of "I told you so!"

Players such as Kafelnikov are not the first scalps that Clement has claimed - in fact Agassi himself has already fallen prey to this flamboyant Frenchman.

He first rose to prominence in 1997 when he upset world number three Patrick Rafter and seventh-ranked Sergi Brugera during ATP tour events in Vienna and Lyon respectively.

Then four months ago he beat Agassi in straight sets in the second round of the US Open

The American was the defending champion then as well, and Clement went on to reach the last eight of a Grand Slam event for the first time in his life.

Origin

Along with friend and semi-finalist, Sebastien Grosjean, Clement is a product of France's new commitment to tennis in the 1990s.

It is believed that talents like Clement's and Grosjean's have been brought to the fore by new measures taken by the French Tennis Association (FFT), under the watchful eye of performance director Patrice Hagelauer, who is now performing a similar role in England.

Armed with amazing quickness and a brilliant touch, the man from Marseille came through junior, county and regional programmes, at each stage receiving tutoring from the FFT's selected coaches.

Now it seems that Clement could be ready to take over Cedric Pioline's crown as French number one and perhaps scale even further heights.

Arnaud Clement
Clement is starting to handle the pressure better

"Clement also has good technique and is the quickest player on the tour." said Hagelauer.

"He is like Jimmy Connors in that he can reach any ball - a player will think they have hit a winner against him but he will get it."

But while he is capable of moments of brilliance, he also has a tendency to be become fragile under pressure.

This is probably why he only has one career title to date, but the year 2000 has been a period of transformation for the Frenchman.

Clement seems to finally have the constitution to handle the pressure in the big matches.

He passed the ultimate test when he came back from match point in the third set to win his semi-final against Grosjean.

As Clement prepares for his most important ever match, it seems he is finally ready to enter the big time.

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26 Jan 01 | Australian Open
25 Jan 01 | Australian Open
24 Jan 01 | Australian Open
26 Jan 01 | Australian Open
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