Classic Kuerten derails Federer's bandwagon

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The Independent Online

This time there was no falling flat on his back in the dust, no drawing of giant hearts in the clay with his racket handle. Instead, Gustavo Kuerten simply swigged water, the other arm upraised in acknowledgement, while the Roland Garros audience roared his nickname - "Guga! Guga!"

The two-hour, straight-sets victory which removed the world No 1, Roger Federer, from a tournament that the Swiss expected to win - and many others - may not have been comparable to Kuerten's exhilarating hat-trick of French Opens (in 1997, 2000 and 2001) but, to someone suffering from an aching hip, it was a sweet afternoon in the sun.

The score of 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 was fair indication of how Kuerten dominated this third-round match from start to finish with his deep, precise striking of the ball, particularly on the backhand.

He broke Federer in the opening game and needed only one match point when he served for it, a crunching delivery producing a mishit return into the bottom of the net and a wail of dismay from Federer.

Afterwards Kuerten spoke of his "love and passion" for the French Open. "I couldn't ask for anything better," he said, "especially facing a guy like Roger." Guga needed the attention of a trainer in the second set for the pain in his hip, a lingering legacy of the operation he underwent just over two years ago.

The injury forced his retirement from a tournament in Barcelona a month ago and he had not played since then. "I am having a lot of problems in my hip, I needed the trainer to minimise the pain," he explained. It is possible that the hip will be the deciding factor in whether Kuerten gets much further in his quest for title number four.

"I was happy to finish in three sets because I was feeling a bit weak," said the Brazilian. "Finishing in three sets was my only chance. Luckily, everything worked just perfect. My hip is a problem that is going to take a long time to go away. It is a condition I have to face every match. If I had to face a five-set match it would be very difficult."

Though there were no physical setbacks on his part, Federer complained about a slippery court and the fast conditions, with the ball flying, but he is a gracious enough professional to have acknowledged the real reason why he is heading home today: "It is down to [Kuerten's] performance.

"I was definitely not happy with my game, but I tried," Federer added. "He didn't give me much of a chance. He wasn't missing much. He deserved it. He has won this tournament many times and he deserves everything the fans give him here. He is a great guy.

"My game today was a lot to do with his game. Usually I can control these kind of matches. Today I couldn't. I never got a grip on the match. This is what is so worrying for me, I didn't play like I can, which is why I am disappointed. Now I am looking forward to getting on the grass."

Kuerten dropped his first service game but after that did not permit Federer even the chance of a break point and there was a majestic inevitability about the outcome, with the Brazilian's exquisite placement leaving Federer so unsure of himself that he once lost his footing completely. The Wimbledon champion's only chance of salvation clearly lay in his ability to stretch that hip but he served too poorly to do that.

Four of the swelling Russian contingent are through to the last 16 of the women's singles, but so are four Americans - the usual suspects, the Williams sisters, Jennifer Capriati and Lindsay Davenport. Both Serena and Venus conceded just four games in seeing off Silvija Talaja, of Croatia, and France's Mary Pierce, although neither performed impressively.

Serena, in her new fuchsia outfit with matching bandana and earrings in the shape of tennis rackets, continues to struggle to gain the affection of Parisians. She was greeted by a mix of applause, boos and whistles on Court Suzanne Lenglen, and the reception did not improve much as she lost concentration in the second set of her 6-0, 6-4 win.

There were nine double-faults, prompting her to comment, "I don't usually hit nine double-faults in a tournament, never mind a match. It was weird. My mind wandered." During this wandering she confessed to thinking about what she was going to have for dinner. Luckily, it didn't matter against hapless opposition.

Venus was more composed in seeing off Pierce, the 2000 Roland Garros champion. This had been projected as a much closer match, but Pierce had one of those days when some of her shots threatened to clear the stadium confines altogether, and Venus was content to go with that particular flow.

Capriati, in contrast, needed 1hr 39min to repel the challenge of another Russian, Elena Bovina, 6-2, 3-6, 6-4. Things looked ominous for the 6ft 2in Bovina when she was comprehensively lobbed on the very first point of the match but she settled to extend the 28-year-old American, who has been suffering back problems for much of this year. Service breaks were freely exchanged and, on a hot day, the heavily built Capriati looked relieved to come out on top.