In 2004, he became the only person to defeat Roger Federer at a Grand Slam event. ´ The best player ever faced? Gustavo Kuerten was interviewed by L´Equipe to speak about his career and some of his most remarkable opponents. His first visit to Roland-Garros at the age of 15 gave Kuerten something to aim for, and also a path to follow. I think that difference was clear in our reactions during the final. It was great — I could feel the affection that people still have for me, and that really was lovely.
He could drop the hammer with both his forehand and his backhand regardless of his position on the court, even when you felt like you had him up against the wall. In 1998, 2002 and 2004 Kuerten received the Prix Orange Roland Garros Award for sportsmanship from the association of tennis journalists. My name was mentioned at the Hall of Fame! Kuerten made it to the top despite a sore back that troubled him last week and throughout the season. But the same ifs and buts apply to all matches and indeed careers. People loved him and he adored it.
At the age of 26, Kuerten already had his best years behind him. I am still working at my academy in Camboriu, in the south of Brazil, where I trained Guga. Take a trip down memory lane to the time when Paris belonged to the Brazilian. He even cried several times when he was working on live events. During the Olympics, he was commentating for Brazilian television and he often got very emotional. And then along came Guga… Is any of it down to you that he has an almost spiritual relationship with the place, quite apart from the results he achieved? When he won his quarter-final against Kafelnikov, I knew that he was going to win the tournament.
Guga should have won the tournament there as well. He was on a good run and making progress. Guga found himself two sets to one and 4-2 down to the Russian, only to squeeze through 6-3, 3-6, 4-6, 6-4, 6-2. When he returned to Paris 12 months later, Kuerten had definitely moved up to the next level. You also have to love the place where you are playing, you need to cherish it.
Since the computer ranking was established in 1973, the No. When I compare how he and I handled these things, we were like chalk and cheese. But Kuerten succeeded, and when he finished serving for the match and a whole lot more in today's final, he was soon in possession of two trophies and wrapped up snugly in the Brazilian flag. Plenty of people had had this flash of inspiration before, but not been able to put it into practice.
The compromise was that I had to adjust my game to the new way of playing. Seeing him win it in 1997 was a surprise at the time, but what happened later put it into context: not many guys have won three Roland-Garros titles. He won the French Open singles title three times 1997, 2000, and 2001 , and was the Tennis Masters Cup champion in 2000. And to win a Grand Slam, simply playing well is not enough.
The Brazilian quietly slipped down the rankings, despite having two operations in quick succession in an attempt to halt the decline. I personally had been going to Roland-Garros for 11 years. In the final, his lavish backhand and delicate all-round play meant that he was never in any danger up against another former French Open champion, 1993 and 1994 champion Sergi Bruguera of Spain, running out a comfortable 6-3, 6-4, 6-3 winner. That match made me realise that Roland-Garros was going to be the most difficult tournament for me to win. It was a lesson in how to go beyond yourself, the fatigue, the nerves, the frustration, the despair… that was all mixed with what I now know was a real sense of fear. The heaviness of his strokes and his power on both wings were unrivalled.
Some people then made memes of it on social networks, comparing him to a cute little Labrador! As well as highs, he also had his fair share of lows, but at Roland-Garros, things always went his way. At the same time crazy and great. I was a young tennis coach and my first dream was coming true. Maybe that backhand, two centimetres out, was the turning point of the match. His game on clay is the most brilliant I have ever seen. Kuerten saved 16 break points in a row over the weekend: nine in his three-set victory over Sampras in Saturday's semifinal and then all seven he faced against Agassi, 30, who beat Kuerten in three sets in a round-robin match on Tuesday.
And I can still hear myself saying that it would be fabulous to meet a young player who had the same love as me for Paris and who would be capable of playing a leading role at Roland-Garros. He often played in an age group above his. After a few failed attempted comebacks, he retired from top-level tennis in May 2008. The years may have flown by, but Roland-Garros still belonged to him. On 25 May 2008, it was the Sunday start at Roland-Garros, and Paul-Henri Mathieu admitted that he was a fan of the player he had just knocked out. The last two sets were a nightmare.