Tennis: Kuerten calls the shots despite granny's advice

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The Independent Online
Having eliminated the past two French Open champions in five sets en route to tomorrow's men's singles final, the Brazilian Gustavo "Guga" Kuerten is not inclined to pay much heed when his German grandmother tells him how to succeed.

"She arrived yesterday with my mum, and my coach almost lost his job," the 20-year-old Kuerten joked when asked about the redoubtable Olga Schlosser, from Dusseldorf. "Ever since I started to play, she knows all. She studied every player. She knows Becker, Sampras, Kafelnikov. "If I start to talk to her, she says, `Come on, this guy you have to play like this'. Yesterday we went to dinner. They separated me from her so she didn't start with the tips.''

The personable Brazilian had best watch his step lest grandmother takes the huff and passes on inside information about his game to his rivals, starting with tomorrow's opponent, Sergi Bruguera.

Having started the tournament by offending the eye of the president of French Tennis Federation with his blue and yellow strips, the tall, lithe Kuerten has risen, unseeded, to become the lowest ranked Grand Slam finalist (No 66) since New Zealand's Chris Lewis (No 91) was crushed by John McEnroe at Wimbledon in 1983.

The Brazilian's talent, which shone through consecutive five set matches against Thomas Muster, Andrei Medvedev and Yevgeny Kafelnikov, accounted for Filip Dewulf, the Belgian qualifier, ranked No 122, in the semi-finals. Kuerten won, 6-1, 3-6, 6-1, 7-6, and both players received a warm reception for their enterprising contribution to a bizarre tournament.

Bruguera, the No 16 seed, will attempt to win the title for the third time in five years. He managed to subdue the dashing style of Australia's unseeded Pat Rafter, who narrowly failed to carry the tournament in the cause of serve and volley.

The 24-year-old Queenslander worked hard for almost three hours, but was unable to shake Bruguera out of his durable baseline game, and the last of the 18 Spaniards who entered the men's event prevailed, 6-7, 6- 1, 7-5, 7-6. The only time Rafter really let down was in the concluding tie-break, which Bruguera won, 7-1.

It will be interesting to see how Bruguera copes with Kuerten's lively groundstrokes tomorrow. Experience and ranking favours the Spaniard, although those two factors have not played a significant part in the course of the championships so far.

Kuerten arrived as a virtual unknown, but is guaranteed to break into the top 20 whatever the result of the final. He will then go on to play another clay court event in Bologna, before setting foot on grass at Nottingham the week before Wimbledon. "I have never played on grass," he said.

Whatever else, he will turn up with a predominately white set of clothing.

Four years ago, Iva Majoli of Croatia made her debut in the women's singles here, advancing to the fourth round, where she was defeated by Steffi Graf, the eventual champion. Elsewhere in the grounds, the precocious Martina Hingis was in the process of setting records, winning the junior singles title at the age of 12.

Today, the 19-year-old Majoli will contest her first Grand Slam singles final. Facing her will be Hingis, at 16 the youngest winner of a Grand Slam singles title this century, the Australian championship, the youngest ever world No 1, and unbeaten in 40 matches so far this year.

"I'm not going to go out there and think, `You have no chance, you got to the final, it's finished'," Majoli, the No 9 seed, says, dismissing a thought which has probably crossed a few minds since Hingis's semi-final win against Monica Seles.

Upsets do happen, as anyone who has taken even a passing interest in the results here will know, and as Majoli is advised to remind herself. "In finals, everything is possible," she says. "I'm just going to go out there and try to play my game and attack. I really have nothing to lose. I can really just play the best tennis of my life.''

It may help if she recalls the first of their three previous matches, which Majoli won, 6-0 in the third set. That was on a fast carpet court in the semi-finals of the Pan Pacific Open in Tokyo in February, 1996. Majoli, who defeated Seles in the quarter-finals, went on to beat Arantxa Sanchez Vicario in the final.

Hingis has won their two subsequent matches, also on carpet, while improving at an astonishing rate. "I just think of her as another player," Majoli says, adding significantly, "I know she's great.''

The last time two teenagers contested a Grand Slam singles final was in 1991 here, when Seles defeated Sanchez Vicario. It seems appropriate that two of the latest generation will mark the centenary of women's participation at the French championships. Majoli is a fine player. Hingis is formidable...