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.
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
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.
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.
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.”
More from Tennis365:
ATP top 10 prize-money earners in 2022: Novak Djokovic leads the way as Nick Kyrgios cracks top 10
Your ATP top 10 prize-money earners in 2022.
Rafael Nadal confirms one event that he will skip in 2023 as cool images emerge from exhibition match
Rafael Nadal won’t defend one of his titles in 2023.
Bianca Andreescu finally ‘in tune with herself’ and hopes to use tennis ‘to help inspire others’
Bianca Andreescu feeling the love on and off the court.
Canada worthy Davis Cup winners as lucky losers, wildcards and substitutes all part of tennis history
Oh, Canada! Enjoy your Davis Cup win.
Ashleigh Barty ‘honoured’ as she battles Nick Kyrgios for prestigious Australian tennis award
Who is your Australian tennis player of the year?
Rafael Nadal says Big Three rivalry with Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic key to their longevity
Rafael Nadal says Big Three rivalry has taken them to “extreme mental and tennis levels”.
Judy Murray the latest to be accused of accepting ‘sportswashing role in Saudi Arabia’
Judy Murray urged “to use the opportunity to speak out and show solidarity”.
Fernando Verdasco’s voluntary doping suspension opens a can of worms in tennis
The use of Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE) in tennis questioned.
Carlos Alcaraz, Holger Rune and Jack Draper in the running for two ATP Awards
Your nominees for the 2022 ATP Awards.
Mom-to-be Angelique Kerber eyes comeback and hopes to be an inspiration for new moms and women
Angelique Kerber reveals her comeback plan.