Clay leaves French hopes in the dust, says Bartoli

By Julien Pretot

PARIS (Reuters) - Only one homegrown player has made it through to the fourth round at Roland Garros this year, and former Wimbledon finalist Marion Bartoli seems sure of the reason -- the French cannot play on clay.

Aravane Rezai, who had high hopes going into the tournament having beaten Venus Williams in the Madrid Open final, bowed out after a two-hour and 48-minute battle with Nadia Petrova stretched over a rain-interrupted two days on Saturday.

Bartoli, her country's number one, made a low-key exit, losing 7-6 6-2 to Israel's Shahar Peer and now the women's fourth round will be French-free.

Quizzed on the locals' performances at this year's French Open after Jo-Wilfried Tsonga was left the only home hope in the draw for the fourth round, Bartoli said: "We were only two seeded players (in the women's draw), so the probability of having one in week two is pretty thin.

"When you learn tennis (in France), you do it more on hard courts than clay courts," she explained.

"The first time I played a match on clay was at the French championships and I was 16."

Now 25, Bartoli has yet to make it past the fourth round.

"With all the Spanish players and the foreign players training in Spain, it is hard to compete.

"We have a grand slam in France that is being played on clay and yet we grow up on hard courts. We only play on hard courts so there is no surprise that we have better results at Wimbledon or the U.S. Open."

Bartoli reached the Wimbledon final three years ago, while Amelie Mauresmo won the grasscourt grand slam in 2006, the same year she clinched the Australian Open.

On the men's side, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga reached the Australian Open final in 2008 and Cedric Pioline featured in the 1997 Wimbledon final, while the last French Roland Garros finalist was Henri Leconte back in 1988.

Rezai, however, had a much more positive approach after her heartbreaking defeat to Petrova.

"These are great experiences that I've just acquired," she told reporters.

"To me, I'm still very much learning, and this was all of a sudden, everything at the same time. I'm happy I could do what I did to start with."

Although she acknowledges there is room for specific improvements on the slowest surface, Rezai does not believe that clay is her weak point.

"I wouldn't say it's the surface. I play well on all types of courts, but next year I will take into account the fact that this is clay, so maybe I'll try and look for other things like dropshots, or I'll try and wrong foot her," she said.

"It's going to be something comprehensive. I have to look at different surfaces, not just clay. But I think I play well on clay. It doesn't bother me."

(Editing by Miles Evans)