Tennis: Wimbledon 99 - Kuerten exorcises his fear of grass

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GUSTAVO KUERTEN of Brazil, who had never won a match on grass before beating Britain's Chris Wilkinson in the first round here last week, yesterday secured a fourth successive win on the surface - and a quarter-final meeting with Andre Agassi - by beating Lorenzo Manta of Switzerland in four sets, 7-5, 6-4, 5-7, 6-3.

Asked when he became a grass court player, Kuerten said: "I'm a member now. I'm a grass court player. I can come back here and improve my game, and now it's going to be easy."

Kuerten, who won the French Open two years ago but had not got beyond the first round at Wimbledon in two attempts, had become the first Brazilian to reach the fourth round at the All England Club in the open era. Now that he has gone one stage better, he said, anything else would be a bonus.

"It's going to be quite different there [against Agassi], but for me already it's wonderful. I didn't expect at all to be here now in the quarter- finals, so let's see what else I can get.

"It's going to be only better for me. I don't have anything to lose. I have proved to myself that I can win here."

Manta, who is ranked No 196 in the world and caused one of the surprises of the third round by beating the No 5 seed Richard Krajicek over five sets on Saturday, said that, although he managed to win the third set, he had already made too many mistakes in the opening two to give himself a chance.

"Gustavo was playing a different game than Krajicek," he said.

"I had a couple of chances in the first set, but I missed those opportunities and then it was quite difficult because, unfortunately, today maybe my serve wasn't working as well as on other days, as against Krajicek.

"I think that might have been the difference today, because Gustavo served very well. I didn't put enough first serves in today."

Kuerten said that his run at the Championships this year was possibly a result of the setting of his contest with Wilkinson.

"The first match I started on Centre Court was very nice and maybe I got inspiration from the others who had played there, and when you win matches you start to get yourself more comfortable, and I have started to play really well now."

He added that facing Agassi "will be a lot of fun".

"He is a great player," the Brazilian said of the American who so memorably became this year's French Open champion. I've never been in a quarter- final [on grass] and hopefully he won't hit too hard and he will let me play and enjoy it a little too. I know he is coming with 10 or 11 straight wins. He is playing wonderful and I will just have to do my best."

When asked how many people back at home in Brazil were watching his progress at Wimbledon, Kuerten replied, very precisely: "140 million, 200 thousand."

Given that that is the population of the entire country, he should not lack support but, even if he misunderstood the question, there is little doubt that his exploits will be challenging football and motor racing for attention at the moment.

On the prospect of facing Kuerten, Agassi said: "We've had some pretty one-sided matches in the past. The first two times he kind of routed me and the last time we played I routed him. It will be interesting.

"It's always interesting to play the guys you're familiar with on a different surface that you've never played against them on. It's hard for me to speculate, not watching him a whole lot, how his game deals with the surface, but he's obviously playing well.

"We'll see a lot more baseline rallies and I'll be back to good form," Agassi concluded confidently.