Tennis365’s legends of Roland Garros number six: Gustavo Kuerten

We kick off our rundown of seven true legends of Roland Garros with the infinitely lovable Gustavo Kuerten, a man who came from nowhere to absolutely dominate the toughest Grand Slam in tennis.

The player
There are very few player who inspire the kind of emotion that Gustavo “Guga” Kuerten managed to during his career, and especially at Roland Garros.

As things stand, only Bjorn Borg and Rafael Nadal in the men’s game can better Kuerten’s achievements at the French Open, and only Henri Cochet and Ivan Lendl can match the three titles he won.

Kuerten was an instantly recognisable figure in tennis around the turn of the millennium with his beaming toothy smile and florescent coloured shirts.

Standing 6’3″, Kuerten was a physically imposing player too, yet a hip injury was to rob him of the chance to build on the major titles he won.

Famously, he would avoid grass tournaments as he knew his game was so well suited to clay instead, and it also coincided too often with surf season!

However, the Brazilian remains a popular and honoured figure in the tennis world even to this day.

Roland Garros record

Gustavo Kuerten and Rafael Nadal PA

Kuerten claimed three French Open titles in give attempts around the turn of the century.

His legend on the red dirt of Roland Garros began in 1997 when, seeded 66th in the world and unseeded, he bested three former champions on the way to winning what was a fairy tale title.

However, he proved it was no fluke when he followed it up with another title in 2000, reaching number one in the world in the process, and then successfully defended it a year later.

Standout moment
There are few moments in the whole of sport that can rival Kuerten’s underdog success story at the 1997 French Open.

To say he was unfancied would be a lied. He simply wasn’t on anyone’s radar at all.

However, he powered through three former champions, including clay specialist Thomas Muster.

Muster fell first in the third round in what became an epic contest from two giants of the clay court circuit – even if we didn’t know that’s what Guga was at the time.

Muster won the first set and took it to a decider, but it was Kuerten who got the crucial break in the fifth.

If that wasn’t enough, he also five-setted defending champion Yevgeny Kafelnikov in quarters, even bageling him in the fourth.

By the time he faced Sergi Bruguera in the final, it felt almost inevitable Kuerten would grow in stature, and that’s exactly what he did, straight-setting the two time champion and taking the title.

In quotes
On how Roland Garros changed his life: “My life was never normal again after 1997 Roland Garros, yet I have tried to preserve and maintain my approach to life.”

On retirment: “I don’t consider it the end of the line,” Kuerten says. “I am very involved in tennis, and I will find a way to give back to tennis.”

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