Hand injury forces Lendl to drop out Agassi tries purple, positive thinking FRENCH OPEN


PARIS -- There was a flurry of not altogether unexpected activity yesterday, which conveniently served as sort of a final warm-up for the French Open, which will begin today.

* Ivan Lendl, a three-time winner, pulled out because his surgically repaired right hand has not healed fully.

* John McEnroe, practicing with Jimmy Connors, got into an argument with a French photographer and had to be pulled away by coach Antonio Palafox.

* Andre Agassi began making plans on how to spend two weeks in a city that those who live here regard as the capital of all true culture.

"I kind of know what I like to do," Agassi said. "Play some golf, VHS in my room, see some movies, listen to my disc player, McDonald's and Burger King."

That about covers all the options, to be sure. After all, what else could there be? It promises to be a rollicking opening day, with Agassi looking for a groove against Mark Rosset, 37-year-old Connors taking on Todd Witsken and McEnroe running into Andrei Cherkasov, who poses more serious a threat with his racket than the photographer did with his camera.

McEnroe, seeded 15th, could not have had a more difficult draw of the 16 seeded players. Cherkasov, ranked No. 17, is the highest-ranked player not to be seeded and that can't really be good news for McEnroe, who lost his only clay court match of the year and hasn't played here since 1988.

In the meantime, Agassi seems uneasy as he holds vastly different expectations. Since defending champion Andres Gomez pulled out citing an injury, defending finalist and No. 4-ranked Agassi is the top player remaining in the field based on last year's results.

But if Agassi entered the French Open last year on a roll, he comes into today's match at a snail's pace. He is 13-8, compared with 17-3 at this stage a year ago, and has failed to make at least the quarterfinals in five of his eight tournaments in 1991.

What's more, if Agassi does not reach the final again, he would drop out of the top 10. Agassi said he is remaining upbeat: What better way to express that than by unveiling a new line of Nike-made tennis clothes?

Purple is in, specifically in the thigh-hugging linings of his faded black shorts. Negativism is out.

"Right now, results-wise and confidence-wise, I've done better," Agassi said. "But most of it depends on my finding my groove in two weeks. Keeping that in mind, yeah, I'm capable of playing my best tennis."

Agassi is 2-4 on clay and reached the quarterfinals in Barcelona, Spain, where he lost to Guillermo Perez-Roldan. Then he lost his opening match in Monte Carlo to Horst Skoff and his first match in Rome to Eric Jelen.

Lendl's recent surgery to remove scar tissue from the base of his right palm had prohibited him from practicing until Friday, and yesterday his doctors informed him that the hand needed another week to heal.

Steffi Graf begins her pursuit of Monica Seles' No. 1 ranking today with a first-round match against Magdalena Maleeva. Second-seeded Graf will reclaim No. 1 if she reaches the final and top-seeded Seles does not. According to the seedings, Gabriela Sabatini would meet Seles in the semifinals.

Jennifer Capriati, 15, opens the tournament with the first match on Centre Court when she plays Katia Piccolini of Italy.

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