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22 Apr 2008 11:27
Gustavo Kuerten has just two more tournaments left before he slips reluctantly into retirement, a desperate leave-taking forced on him by a crippled hip that simply refuses to heal.
But the former world number one, and triple French Open champion, is taking a sackful of memories with him and even the bad times are being filed away amongst the golden moments.
The best and the worst of them have come at Roland Garros and a Philippe Chatrier centre court that is so special that he famously carved out a giant heart in the clay to declare his love for the arena and the tournament.
“I was 15 when I first went and I saw Ivan Lendl win a match in five sets, which were spread over two days,” said Kuerten.
“The atmosphere was always special. I had three unforgettable titles and even the bad memories are good.
“In 1998, I played doubles with Fernando Meligeni and we were in the quarterfinals against Pat Rafter and Jonas Bjorkman and we were arguing about a break point.
“I threw my racquet to the ground but it bounced up and almost hit the umpire.
I was disqualified for the only time in my career, but it taught me how to control myself better.”
Kuerten won three French Open singles titles, in 1997, 2000 and 2001; he even beat Roger Federer in the third round in 2004 in a devastating display of clay-court finesse.
Kuerten’s troublesome hip has restricted him to just nine matches on tour in the last three years and with his 32nd birthday approaching this year and with a ranking of 1 145 in the world, the Brazilian has had enough.
This is his farewell year and after losing 6-1, 6-2 to Ivan Ljubicic in a woefully one-sided first-round match at the Monte Carlo Masters, where he was champion in 1999 and 2001, Kuerten has just Barcelona and Roland Garros left to play.
He wanted to feature in the Rome Masters but a wildcard was not forthcoming.
“It’s nice to come back and play in the tournaments where I have so many special memories and now there is another part of my life to come,” said Kuerten, who was beaten in just 57 minutes on Monday.
Even if he takes a pasting in Paris, he has no regrets about one more appearance at Roland Garros before the curtain comes down on a career that has yielded 20 titles as well as almost $15-million in prize money.
“The bigger the challenge, the more you learn. The injury has made me aware of my limitations and so I appreciate all the things that have happened to me,” added ‘Guga’.
“It’s been a great experience and will help me in the future.”—Sapa-AFP
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