Federer, Kuerten face off

Updated: May 29, 2004, 12:51 AM ET
By Howie Schwab | Special to ESPN.com

With a strong showing at Roland Garros, Roger Federer can really impress those critics who still stubbornly question his world No. 1 ranking.

Federer, who has never made it past the quarterfinals at the French Open, faces a stern test in the third round. Brazilian Gustavo Kuerten, ranked 28th in the world, has captured this event three times.

Kuerten has had an up-and-down season, with only one victory against a top-25 opponent all year (Vince Spadea back in January). After struggling in a five-set battle in round one, Kuerten lost just five games in his second-round rout of Nicolas Kiefer.

Federer has not lost a set in this year's tournament, though he didn't play his best tennis in a round two.

Kuerten and Federer have split two previous matches. It is surprising to note Federer won the match on clay, in three sets in Hamburg in 2002, while Kuerten won on hard court at Indian Wells in 2003.

Return of the accidental tourist

  • Is last year's finalist an underdog? Martin Verkerk, the 19th seed, takes on 12th-seed Lleyton Hewitt in a tough match to call. Hewitt beat Verkerk is a tight 1-6, 7-6, 7-5 battle at the World Team Championship just before the French Open.

    In the second round, Verkerk was down two sets to one against Victor Hanescu. He didn't lose another game in the final two sets, going 6-0, 3-0 retired. Will that momentum carry over?

  • 2002 French Open champion Albert Costa and Xavier Malisse meet in a rubber match. They've split two meetings this year; Costa winning on clay in Hamburg, 6-3, 6-4, a few weeks back. Malisse's victory came at Miami, 6-4, 6-2, in March.

    Malisse has not lost a set in the first two rounds, with his second-round match ending prematurely (6-3, 4-0 retired vs. Daniel Elsner). He comes in with a seven-match win streak.

  • This next matchup features two nominees for the Man Most Unlikely to Play for a Round of 16 Berth: 20-year-old Igor Andreev and 22-year-old Julien Benneteau.

    Andreev, who turns 21 in July, stunned defending champion Juan Carlos Ferrero in straight sets in round two. The Russian hasn't lost a set yet in this event, impressive considering he entered the tourney with a 1-6 record in his prior seven ATP matches.

    Benneteau had never gone past the first round at the French before this year. He has a victory against Andreev on hard court in France in February.

    Sisters' show

  • Serena Williams can't possibly have a tougher third round than her second-round struggle against Russian Maria Kirilenko. Williams was down 4-2 in the third set before rallying to win four consecutive games. Now she meets Croatian Sylvija Talaja, who is not ranked among the top 100 and has never made the round of 16 at a Grand Slam event.

    Venus Williams will not be the fan favorite against 30th-seed and 2000 French Open champion Mary Pierce, who plays for France even though she's from Canada (her mother is French). Williams has not had an easy time in her first two matches, while Pierce has dropped a total of seven games.

    Challenges ahead

  • Jennifer Capriati has a challenge as well, meeting 25th-seed Elena Bovina. The American has not been impressive in her first two matches, while the Russian had an early finish in her second-round match when her opponent was injured after five games.

    Bovina is trying to make it to the round of 16 at Roland Garros for the first time.

  • Looking for a potential upset? Sixth-seed Anastasia Myskina is in the third round of the French for the first time. She had a trainer working on her shoulder late in her last match, and she could have trouble with Denisa Chladkova.

    Ranked 70th in the world, Chladkova has won her first two matches in straight sets, upsetting Hungary's Petra Mandula in round two.

  • Argentina's Gisela Dulko, making an impression at age 19, is taking on someone closer to her own age. First she eliminated 47-year-old Martina Navratilova, then 32-year-old Conchita Martinez.

    Now she meets 27-year-old Shinobu Asagoe of Japan. Asagoe upset 16th-seed Patty Schnyder in the second round. The winner of this match will likely play Serena Williams in the round of 16.

    Howie Schwab is a coordinating producer for ESPN.

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