- The Washington Times - Monday, May 26, 2008

PARIS (AP) — Gustavo Kuerten bid farewell to tennis yesterday in the first round of the French Open, losing 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 to Paul-Henri Mathieu at the site of his biggest triumphs.

The former top-ranked Brazilian won three French Open titles.

“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 Kuerten has been bothered by a hip injury since 2001. Since having surgery in 2004, he has played in only 19 tournaments and won five matches. This year’s French Open was his first appearance in a Grand Slam tournament since the 2005 U.S. Open — and he said beforehand it would be his last event at any level.

“It’s incredible how fast it all went,” said Kuerten, who won 20 titles during a pro career that began in 1995.

In 2000, he became the first South American to finish the year at the top of the ATP rankings.

Kuerten plans to play in the doubles tournament in Paris.

Third-seeded Novak Djokovic, No. 6 David Nalbandian, No. 10 Andy Murray and No. 7 James Blake advanced to the second round, but 1998 French Open champion Carlos Moya lost to Eduardo Schwank 7-6 (4), 6-2, 6-7 (1), 4-6, 6-3.

Blake’s 6-4, 6-1, 7-6 (3) victory over Rainer Schuettler made him the first American man to win a match at Roland Garros since 2006.

In the women’s draw, eight-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams beat Ashley Harkleroad 6-2, 6-1, and last year’s French Open runner-up Ana Ivanovic struggled before beating Sofia Arvidsson 6-2, 7-5. The first seeded player to lose was No. 15 Nicole Vaidisova. She reached the French Open semifinals in 2006 and the quarterfinals last year but was upset by Iveta Benesova 7-6 (2), 6-1.

Kuerten saved one match point before sending a weak shot into the net. Then he sat back in his chair and pulled a towel over his head.

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

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

Kuerten — who was the last top-seeded man to win the title in Paris when he did it 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 he won French Open titles in 1997, 2000 and 2001.

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

Djokovic survived a rough start to his quest for a second straight Grand Slam title, holding off Denis Gremelmayr 4-6, 6-3, 7-5, 6-2.

Djokovic is trying to become the first man since Jim Courier in 1992 to win the Australian and French Opens in the same year.



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