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TENNIS FACING SERIOUS CRISIS AS FRENCH OPEN STARTS TODAY

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Monica Seles is still sidelined, Jennifer Capriati is in rehab, Gabriela Sabatini is in a slump and Martina Navratilova is on the way out.

The French Open starts today with women's tennis in crisis - and Steffi Graf with no serious rival.While the men's game has problems of its own, Pete Sampras has enlivened interest in the French Open by seeking to become the first man in 25 years - and only the third in history - to win four consecutive Grand Slam titles.

Graf is aiming for her fifth straight Grand Slam crown since last year, which would put her halfway toward her second career sweep of all four major titles in the same calendar year. She did first did it in 1988.

On Monday, Graf opens on Center Court against Katarina Studenikova of Slovakia, ranked No. 106 in the world.

In other featured matches, Sampras will test his new clay-court prowess against Spanish qualifier Alberto Costa; Andre Agassi faces Mats Wilander, the three-time French Open champion on the comeback trail; Boris Becker goes against Jonathan Stark; and Navratilova begins her last French Open against Miriam Oremans.

Graf's current dominance of the sport has been tempered by the overall lack of depth in women's tennis and the absence of any exciting challengers to the German's No. 1 status.

"There haven't been a lot of new names," Graf said Sunday. "And quite a few big names haven't shown the results that they could. It does look like there are some players missing. All I can do is try to play the best tennis I can."

Winning Grand Slam titles is almost considered a formality for Graf these days. If she doesn't capture her fourth French Open and 16th Grand Slam crown, it would be viewed as a failure.

This year, Graf has played seven tournaments and won six. She's won 37 matches and lost one (to Arantxa Sanchez Vicario in the Hamburg final last month). Since February 1993, she has reached 20 consecutive finals and won all but four.

Graf ackowledges that the trouble with women's tennis "starts with my domination at the moment." But she can't be blamed for being so much better than everyone else.

"If I don't have the competition, there's nothing I can do about it."