US joy as Isner, Dent find their feet on clay

Paris: Unlike twinkle-toed Gene Kelly most American men in Paris have had feet of clay at Roland Garros in recent years yet there were signs on Monday that there is a spring in their step on the red dirt.

First-round wins for towering 17th seed John Isner, Taylor Dent and Mardy Fish mean the U.S. is already guaranteed more players through to the men`s second round than they managed last year when Andy Roddick and Robbie Kendrick were the sole survivors.

With sixth seed Roddick, who managed a career-best run to the fourth round last year, beginning his French Open quest on Tuesday and Robby Ginepri and Sam Querrey facing each other, there is suddenly reason to be cheerful.

Andre Agassi`s emotional 1999 triumph here and the relentless Jim Courier`s back-to-back titles in 1991 and 1992, not to mention Michael Chang`s 1989 exploits may be distant memories but Isner believes clay no longer holds too many fears.

"I mean, historically Americans don`t do that great here, especially over the last eight years or whatever but I think it`s something that we`re getting better at," six foot nine 25-year-old told reporters after enjoying a 6-4, 6-3, 6-2 defeat of Andrey Golubev on Monday, his first victory at Roland Garros.

"I think there`s a lot of Americans in the main draw. There`s a few that qualified. We got a bunch that got directly accepted. I think we`re definitely getting better on clay."

"I think three, four, five people even have the ability of making it to the second week."

The big-serving Isner reached a claycourt final in Belgrade recently where he lost to Querrey and he says there is no mystery to his improvement on high bouncing surface.

"For the most part, I`m gonna play my game," he said. "That`s obviously serve big, serve and volley a good bit, and try to end points with my forehand."

"It`s pretty much the same concept. I think the clay just gives me more time to move around in the back and play better."

"The guy I played today, he hit some balls that were good shots, but I found them right in my strike zone, shoulder high. That`s where I want it."

The 29-year-old Dent, whose only two appearances in the French Open main draw ended in first-round exits, broke his duck with an impressive 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 victory over Ecuadorian claycourt specialist Nicolas Lapentti.

"Better late than never, right?" Dent, whose career was nearly ended by a serious back injury, told reporters.

"The conditions were nice for me. Any time it`s hot and dry here the courts are really quick. It`s almost like a hardcourt out there. The only downside is the footing isn`t great."

"It gets a little bit tricky if I try to defend too much. Then I look like a snail out there."

A throwback to the day`s when serve and volley tennis was the norm on the men`s circuit, Dent said he would continue using his attacking style when he faces last year`s runner-up Robin Soderling in the second round.

"I volley great. I wouldn`t trade them for anybody`s. And I slice great," he said. "Unfortunately, in today`s game, those are a little irrelevant. But I still try and use those as much as possible."

"If the conditions are hot and I`m serving well I`m gonna be tough to break, even on a clay court. I`m gonna have to go out there and play a solid match, if I don`t he might beat me up."

Bureau Report

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