Kuerten completes French love affair

French Open: Dashing Brazilian delights Paris crowd with spectacular success after rejuvenated American claims second Grand Slam title of year
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The Independent Online

Exactly a week after saving a match point in the fourth round against Michael Russell, an American qualifier, Gustavo Kuerten drew another heart on the clay with his racket on the Philippe Chatrier Court yesterday. This one marked his third French Open title and with it his return to the top of the ATP Champions' Race, supplanting Andre Agassi.

In so doing, the 24-year-old Brazilian overcame Alex Corretja, the last of the Spanish challengers, 6-7, 7-5, 6-2, 6-0, after three hours and 12 minutes, raising his game from the ordinary to the spectacular.

Among the spectators was Tim Phillips, the Wimbledon chairman, wondering if he would see either of the finalists at the All England Club Championships in two weeks' time.

Phillips will join his fellow Grand Slam chairmen today in announcing any changes to the seeding arrangements at the world's four major championships, with particular emphasis on Wimbledon, the only Grand Slam tournament played on grass.

Whether or not Wimbledon bends towards the view of many of the players that the seedings should follow the ATP's entry system for tournaments, Kuerten will not be among the contenders. "I have to take a break after playing so many matches," he said. "I think it's the right time to stop, otherwise I won't be prepared for the rest of the year." Corretja, who withdrew from Wimbledon on the eve of last year's championships in protest about the seedings system being weighted towards grass-court plays and decided by a club committee, said he would reserve his decision until today.

"I'd like to see what they are going to do this year," he said. "I'll make my decision after they make their decision. I have said many times what I think about the situation. They know my opinion. Everybody knows my opinion." Everybody knew how Kuerten was feeling, too. After receiving the trophy from Jim Courier, the last man to defend successfully the French title as the top seed, in 1992, the Brazilian kept the promise he made last year, to make his speech in French. He then changed his shirt, wearing one he had made earlier bearing the legend "Je love Roland Garros", love being represented by a drawing of a heart.

Roars of appreciation from a capacity crowd of 15,000 let him know that the feeling was mutual, although they had endured some tedious tennis en route to glory.

The first two sets took two hours and 10 minutes, by which time Kuerten had slowly worked his way into the match, having been variously troubled by a sore heel, a period of windy conditions, and Corretja's resilience.

Corretja broke for 2-0 in the first set, was pulled back to 2-2 after a two-minute rain delay, then broke again for 2-4, only to lose his own serve in the next game. At 4-4 spectators began to wonder if the anticipated tie-break would arrive before there was another change in the weather.

Kuerten, who had said beforehand that he could play "in anything except wind", had red dust blowing in his face during the shoot-out, in which the Brazilian lost by double-faulting on set point at 3-6.

Corretja compounded Kuerten's frustration by breaking in the opening game of the second game and holding for 2-0. At this juncture Kuerten decided to attack more often while there was still time to revive his spirits.

The Brazilian broke back for 2-2, and saved a break point in the next game. The wind had died down, but rain clouds continued to threaten, and so did Corretja. He had the luck of a net cord to gain a break point at 5-5, 30-30, but hit a backhand long to lose it. Kuerten's forehand was then blessed with two net cords, and he patted the cord in gratitude on his way back to his chair at the change-over.

Kuerten's backhand created two set points, with Corretja serving at 5-6. The Brazilian missed the first with a blooper of a backhand volley after a Corretja returned a lob from a drop shot, but converted the second, luring the Spaniard into netting a forehand.

One set-all, but the sun had returned and so had Kuerten's confidence. Almost every shot he hit hurt Corretja, who was unable to keep pace with his rampant opponent. Kuerten broke for 2-0 and 4-1, and secured the third set with a cross-court backhand at 5-2.

Corretja's response was to belt a ball into the crowd in frustration, for which he received a warning. But the Spaniard's troubles had only just begun. He did not win another game as Kuerten extended his run to eight in a row.

In the concluding game, the Spaniard fought back from 0-40 to advantage, only to double-fault on the game point. He then missed with a forehand on Kuerten's fourth match point, and Brazilian drums prepared to lead a samba round the grounds.

French Open Results (seedings in brackets):

Men, Singles, Championship

(1) Gustavo Kuerten (Bra) def. (13) Alex Corretja (Spa) 6–7 (3), 7–5, 6–2, 6–0.


Women, Singles, Championship

(4) Jennifer Capriati (USA) def. (12) Kim Clijsters (Bel) 1–6, 6–4, 12–10.


Men, Doubles, Championship

Mahesh Bhupathi and Leander Paes (Ind) def. (13) Petr Pala and Pavel Vizner (Cze) 7–6(5), 6–3.


Women, Doubles, Championship

(2) Virginia Ruano–Pascual (Spa) and Paola Suarez (Arg) def. (16) Jelena Dokic (Yug) and Conchita Martinez (Spa) 6–2, 6–1.


Mixed, Doubles, Championship

Virginia Ruano–Pascual and Tomas Carbonell (Spa) def. Paola Suarez (Arg) and Jaime Oncins (Bra) 7–5, 6–3.