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Last Updated: Thursday, 6 May, 2004, 11:57 GMT 12:57 UK
Can anyone emulate Borg?

By Jonathan Overend
BBC tennis reporter in Rome

To win the men's singles at the French Open, you need a clay-court name as much as a clay-court game.

Guillermo Coria
Can Guillermo Coria prove himself away from the dirt?
If you're Juan Carlos, Guillermo or Carlos, you invariably enjoy this time of year but Andy, Lleyton or Tim had better start looking at the grass for comfort.

The May clay is, increasingly, a specialist exercise.

The history book features great players who enjoyed multiple successes at Roland Garros but also at other Grand Slam venues.

Look at Rod Laver, Ken Rosewall, Bjorn Borg, Ivan Lendl.

A few clay-court kings, notably the great Argentine Guillermo Vilas, won more Grand Slam titles on other surfaces.

Are these days over? Is there a player out there who can dominate in Paris while also striking gold elsewhere?

Borg used to do it for fun.

Roger Federer is one possible successor, but on past evidence, his ability to win a couple of rounds in the French capital, let alone the title, is questionable.

Only two players who have won the French in the past 11 years have won a Grand Slam elsewhere: Andre Agassi and Yevgeny Kafelnikov.

Bjorn Borg
Borg won both Wimbledon and the French Open for three straight years
But between 1973 and 1992, 16 of the 20 Paris titlists also won a major on a non-clay surface.

Mats Wilander won three times in Paris and three times in Melbourne while Vilas, who could beat anybody at Roland Garros apart from Borg, won the title there in 1977 (with Borg absent injured) but enjoyed back-to-back Australian Open victories in '78 and '79.

Any top 10 of clay-courters would include Vilas and Wilander but their ability to win majors elsewhere set them apart from most, if not all, of the specialists in the modern game.

So who might win this year's French Open? Will that person have an all-court game?

Juan Carlos Ferrero, the champion, is the likely bookies' favourite, while fellow Spaniard Carlos Moya will be dangerous.

But the man to beat this year is surely Argentina's Guillermo Coria, a player with the rare ability to win big hard-court titles as well as clay.

The man named after Vilas, who plays like Wilander and looks like (here the tennis similarities stop) Dennis Wise, is the insiders' favourite to win his first Grand Slam title.

Last year's semi-finalist is enjoying a remarkable unbeaten run on clay which stretches back to last July.

FRENCH OPEN CHAMPIONS
1993 Sergi Bruguera (0)
1994 Sergi Bruguera (0)
1995 Thomas Muster (0)
1996 Yevgeny Kafelnikov (1)
1997 Gustavo Kuerten (0)
1998 Carlos Moya (0)
1999 Andre Agassi (8)
2000 Gustavo Kuerten (0)
2001 Gustavo Kuerten (0)
2002 Albert Costa (0)
2003 Juan Carlos Ferrero (0)
Number of other Grand Slam titles in brackets
After an almost inevitable first-round defeat at Wimbledon 2003, he returned to the clay and won three titles - Stuttgart, Kitzbuhel and Sopot - in successive weeks.

Nobody had done that since Thomas Muster in 1996.

The 22-year-old continued his amazing run with the Buenos Aires title in February and then the Masters Series shield in Monte Carlo in April.

His fitness remains a concern after he pulled out of the Miami final last month with a lower back problem and missed the Rome Masters because of a groin strain.

Bu if he stays healthy, Coria is the probable French Open champion.

Then his quest will begin to shake the "specialist" label and prove his ability on the New York concrete.


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