Aggressive style pays off big
PARIS -- Only a few players remain who have a legitimate shot at winning this title: Guillermo Coria and Carlos Moya, in the bottom half of the draw, are two.
The other just might be Gustavo Kuerten.
In his upset of world No. 1 Roger Federer, three-time French Open champion Kuerten played at a level we have not seen from him in 18 months. Because much of Kuerten's decline was due to his injured hip. If he's able to sustain his play the rest of this championship, he could be added to the list of contenders.
One advantage Kuerten, seeded 28th, had in his match against Federer was a coach who could formulate a game plan. Larri Passos set Kuerten up to play a more aggressive game. In Kuerten's case, that didn't mean giving up his usual game to serve and volley or come in to the net. Kuerten played a little closer to the baseline and forced the issue with his ground strokes. Federer can control the ball against anyone, so Kuerten had to be the first one to strike. And Kuerten executed perfectly.
Kuerten plays No. 23 Feliciano Lopez of Spain in the fourth round on Monday. He'll probably need to play the same aggressive style against Lopez, who plays a game similar to Kuerten but not nearly at the Brazilian's level.
In fact, there's no reason why Kuerten's more aggressive style couldn't be successful with anyone he plays. Kuerten would have to commit to the change in style. If he does, then carries it out as he did against Federer, he'll be back inside the top five by the end of the year.
Pick: Kuerten in straight sets
Marat Safin (20), Russia, vs. David Nalbandian (8), Argentina
Possibly the best match in this half of the draw.
It's time for Nalbandian to make his presence felt in a big way at the majors. He did that at the U.S. Open, but he also lost a two-sets-to-one lead in the semifinals to eventual champion Andy Roddick. A win in Paris against Safin would make everybody take notice.
Although Safin is a former U.S. Open champion, there's a credible argument to be made that the Russian's best surface is clay. His versatility as a player gives him a huge advantage. At times he'll serve and volley, or he'll take a second serve return and come into the net. Safin definitely has a better serve than Nalbandian.
But one of the things holding Safin back is his on-court temperament. His frustration and anger affect him negatively, and Nalbandian is one of those players who constantly returns, making you play one more ball.
The Argentine also is one of the most frustrating players to face because he can handle pace and produce it. He's very consistent. If Nalbandian defeats Safin here, he'll need to be added to the list of potential winners for this championship.
Nalbandian in five sets
Igor Andreev, Russia, vs. Gaston Gaudio, Argentina
This should be another entertaining match. Andreev made his ATP debut last year and in only his second appearance in a major, he's in the fourth round. For a guy with his inexperience, he has handled himself wonderfully. After upsetting defending champion Juan Carlos Ferrero in the second round, he didn't have a letdown. Then in the third round, he successfully ignored a raucous French crowd to take a straight-sets victory against Frenchman Julien Benneteau.
However, Andreev's good fortune will run out against Gaudio, a specialist on red clay. Gaudio has the experience, and all too often that's what counts the most in the second week of a major.
Pick: Gaudio in four sets
Lleyton Hewitt (12), Australia, vs. Xavier Malisse, Belgium
Early in the clay-court season, Hewitt committed to play a lot of tennis in Europe in order to succeed once he got to Paris. So far, the preparation has paid off.
Despite Malisse's amazing victory against Albert Costa 6-4, 2-6, 4-6, 7-6 (4), 8-6 to get here, throughout Malisse's career he hasn't been able to back up good results with further wins. So it's difficult to expect him to do well against Hewitt.
Malisse has the ability to open up his shoulders and rip ground strokes off of both wings. Hewitt will need to strike first to be successful. Costa fell to Malisse because all too often he was on the defense not only on the return of serve but also on his own serve.
This might be the tournament where we see Hewitt get back to the form that won him two Grand Slam titles. But to do that, he has to win matches against players like Malisse.
Pick: Hewitt in four
MaliVai Washington, a tennis analyst for ESPN, reached the 1996 Wimbledon final.