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Three-time French Open champion Kuerten bids farewell to tennis

PARIS - Gustavo Kuerten bid farewell to tennis Sunday at the site of his biggest triumphs.


PARIS - Gustavo Kuerten bid farewell to tennis Sunday at the site of his biggest triumphs.

The former top-ranked player, who won three French Open titles, lost to Paul-Henri Mathieu 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 in the first round of this year's tournament at Roland Garros.

"Here, it is my life, my passion and my love," Kuerten said in French. "It's great to have my family here, my coach. But more important was the love you gave me."

The 31-year-old Brazilian has been bothered by a hip injury since 2001. Since having surgery in 2004, Kuerten has played in only 19 tournaments and won five matches. This year's French Open was his first Grand Slam appearance since the 2005 U.S. Open.

"It's incredible how fast it all went," said Kuerten, who won 20 titles in his 14-year career.

After saving a match point, Kuerten lost when he sent a weak shot into the net. Then he sat back in his chair and pulled a towel over his head.

Shaking, he emerged from under cover with his eyes red and finally shook hands with Mathieu.

Kuerten was then led to the centre of the court, where he was given a glass trophy showing a slice of a clay court.

Kuerten - the last No. 1-seeded man to win the title in Paris in 2001 - entered what he said would be his last tournament as the lowest-ranked man in the field at No. 1,141. He got his spot in the draw as a wild card.

Kuerten's final match was played on Court Philippe Chatrier, the main stadium at Roland Garros and the same venue where the Brazilian won French Open titles in 1997, 2000 and '01.

Despite playing a Frenchman on Sunday, Kuerten was cheered on by most in the crowd - complete with several Brazilian flags waving in the stands and group of people with giant gold-coloured letters spelling out G-U-G-A, his nickname.

Kuerten's outfit even resembled the uniform worn by Brazil's national soccer team - blue shorts with a blue-and-yellow shirt and blue shoes - and, of course, a blue headband to keep his shaggy hair out of his eyes.

Kuerten even showed some of the guile that got him to the top of the tennis world in 2000, including a soft, spinning ace while trailing 5-2 in the first set. He followed that with a much harder serve that also went for an ace.

In the second set, Kuerten was broken in the ninth game and trailed 5-4. During the changeover, he sipped water from a bottle while a trainer massaged his lower back.

With Kuerten down a break in the third set, the fans started chanting, "Guga! Guga!"

And during the final changeover, Kuerten put his racket around Mathieu's neck as if to choke him, but just smiled as the crowd cheered yet again.

In January, Kuerten announced that this would be his final year. He pulled out of last month's Barcelona Open because of a muscle injury.

Kuerten began his pro career in 1995, and in 2000 became the first South American to finish the year at the top of the ATP rankings.

 
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