Kuerten wins third French Open title

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The Independent Online

Defending champion Gustavo Kuerten won his third French Open title, beating Alex Corretja in four sets today and carving a heart into the court to thank his fans.

The top–seeded Brazilian won 6–7 (3), 7–5, 6–2, 6–0, closing the match on his fourth championship point when his opponent sent a forehand out.

Kuerten then drew a heart in the red clay with his racket, as he has done before at Roland Garros. He then flopped on his back inside the heart in tribute to his fans, some waving Brazilian flags.

"It was great feelings, it was a big fight," Kuerten said in his trademark broken English. "I was nervous like always."

Kuerten, the world's No. 1 player, won the title in 1997 and 2000 and is only the sixth man to capture three titles at Roland Garros. He is the first to do so since Mats Wilander earned his third in 1988.

"When I lost the third set I lost my game and he was too good for me in the fourth set," said Corretja, who was a runner–up in 1998 and was seeking his first Grand Slam title.

"On clay, (Kuerten) showed that he's the best," said the Spaniard.

Brazilian fans chanted "Gu–ga! Gu–ga!" throughout the match and began beating on drums as soon as Kuerten's victory was sealed.

"This year I'm going to speak to you in French," Kuerten said as he received the winner's trophy.

He congratulated Corretja for a great match and said, in French, "I love playing at Roland Garros, I love playing for you, thank you for supporting me."

The 24–year–old Brazilian is the first man to win consecutive French titles since Spain's Sergi Bruguera in 1993 and 1994. He is also the first man in 25 years to win at Roland Garros after being down a match point in an earlier round.

Kuerten lost the first set in blustery conditions on center court, setting up a first set point by sending a backhand volley into the net after dust blew into his eyes. He lost the set on a double fault.

Corretja, seeded 13th, blew a break point at 5–5 in the second set with a wide backhand, and Kuerten held serve to lead 6–5. He broke the Spaniard to take the second set.

Kuerten cruised through the remaining sets as the wind settled down, ending the 3–hour and 12–minute match with an eight–game winning streak.

In the final game, Kuerten had three match points at 40–0. He blew the first by hitting an overhead smash into the net. On the second, he sent a backhand wide. On the third, he failed to capitalize on an overhead putaway.

Corretja blew an advantage with a double fault, then set up the final match point by hitting the ball into the net.

"There are moments in your career that are much worse than losing a Grand Slam final," said Corretja, before adding: "When you lose, you don't feel too happy."

He showed increasing signs of frustration in the final set as his game unraveled and his opponent's groundstrokes grew more powerful. He spiked his racket several times, drawing jeers from the Brazilian fans.

Kuerten won his first title at the French when he was ranked 66th in the world. Now he is at the summit of tennis.

But he was nearly undone in the fourth round when he saved a third–set match point against American qualifier Michael Russell. But Kuerten prevailed, wining in five sets.

He streaked through his next two matches, beating one of the top players on the tour, Juan Carlos Ferrero, in straight sets in the semifinals.

Kuerten has won 44 of his past 47 matches on clay. He has won 31 of his 34 clay court matches this year. He earned a winner's check of $590,000.

He won the Monte Carlo Masters Series in April and was runner–up to Ferrero at the Italian Open last month. He exited the German Open in the first round, losing to Max Mirnyi of Belarus.

At the end of last year he overtook Marat Safin to claim the top spot in the world rankings by winning the Masters Cup. He beat Andre Agassi in the final.

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, Doubles, Championship

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

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