This Thursday, Gustavo Kuerten celebrates the 20th anniversary of one of the greatest titles of his career: the second championship at Roland Garros, in 2000. After seeing the conquest under the eyes of Guga himself, it was time to understand how the victories of the then number 5 in the world were in the final stretch of the competition from the perspective of rivals: Ecuadorian Nicolás Lapentti, in the round of 16, Russian Yevgeny Kafelnikov, in the quarterfinals, Spanish Juan Carlos Ferrero, in the semi, and the Swedish Magnus Norman, in the decision.
Carousel Gustavo Kuerten 20 years of bi in Roland Garros – Part 2 – Photo: Infoesporte
|1R||Andreas Vinciguerra (SUE)||3 sets 0||6/0, 6/0 and 6/3|
|2R||Marcelo Charpentier (ARG)||3 sets to 0||7/6 (5), 6/2 and 6/2|
|3R||Michael Chang (USA)||3 sets to 1||6/3, 6/7 (9), 6/1 and 6/4|
|Octaves||Nicolás Lapentti (EQU)||3 sets to 0||6/3, 6/4 and 7/6 (4)|
|Wednesday||Yevgeny Kafelnikov (RUS)||3 sets to 2||6/3, 3/6, 4/6, 6/4 and 6/2|
|Semifinal||Juan Carlos Ferrero (ESP)||3 sets to 2||7/5, 4/6, 2/6, 6/4 and 6/3|
|Final||Magnus Norman (SUE)||3 sets to 1||6/2, 6/3, 2/6 and 7/6 (6)|
Round of 16 – Nicolás Lapentti
After three rounds without major difficulties, Guga reached the round of 16 of Roland Garros with a tough challenge ahead: Nicolás Lapentti. The Ecuadorian, then number 11 in the world, was a tough opponent to face on clay. But more than that: he was a personal friend of the Brazilian, with whom he had just won the Roland Garros tournament in pairs in the youth category in 1994.
– We have had a very beautiful friendship since we were 14, 15 years old, since we met. With Guga you could talk about anything, we talked a lot, things that weren’t about tennis. We went out to dinner, to enjoy the family, our teams … And the truth is that throughout our lives, until we retired, we had a great relationship, sincere, of great friendship. We still keep in touch. Nowadays this is much easier with whatsapp, social networks (…) He is one of the friends on the circuit that I remember with great affection – Lapentti told GloboEsporte.com.
Nicolás Lapentti in the game against Gustavo Kuerten at Roland Garros 2000 – Photo: Getty Images
Guga’s brother Rafael confessed that Lapentti was a major concern on the team. Not as a matter of game, after all, the Brazilian was at a higher level at that time. But, precisely because of their friendship. The fact that they train and play together many times and the knowledge that they had of each other could be a factor of “relaxation” for Santa Catarina. So, it was necessary to ensure that he was doing his best in that game.
– They were good friends. That previous day, we were already doing a subtle job that the athlete Gustavo has to be very strong, firm. Without leaving an option for friend Gustavo and friend Lapentti. We knew about Guga’s superiority there, playing very well. But, we know the person Guga. It was a cake recipe and we were doing it to make the athlete and the Guga person happy and ready for the next challenge – said Rafa Kuerten.
Gustavo Kuerten and Nicolas Lapentti after the game at Roland Garros 2000 – Photo: PASCAL GEORGE / AFP
The result doesn’t let it lie that Guga came in really focused on that match. There was very little margin for Lapentti, with a 6/3, 6/4 and 7/6 victory (4). The Ecuadorian confesses that having made it this far at Roland Garros for the first time weighed on nervousness, especially at the start of the match. But, facing the Brazilian in those conditions, it was a very difficult task for any tennis player during those years.
– Definitely, the 2000 match at Roland Garros was the most important for me. It was the year that I went further in this tournament. Guga, since he had won in 1997, was very fond of the French, they were always cheering for him in his matches. Playing on the central court with him was very special. For our friendship, for what Roland Garros meant, because the two were having very good years on the circuit. And I knew that Guga was a favorite, but I was playing very well. He ended up winning me in three sets, in the last 7/6, I felt better each time playing. But, Guga, the moment he stepped on Phillippe Chartrier, was looming a lot. He had a very good relationship with the public and with this court – he said.
Quarter-finals – Yevgeny Kafelnikov
Yevgeny Kafelnikov against Gustavo Kuerten at Roland Garros 2000 – Photo: Getty Images
Gustavo Kuerten’s fear. Both the Brazilian’s team and himself confess that Yevgeny Kafelnikov was the “opponent to be beaten” at Roland Garros. Number 4 in the world and champion of the tournament in 1996, the Russian was experienced and had a game that bothered the Brazilian a lot. Larri Passos even remembers that almost all of Guga’s training throughout the tournament were made based on Kafelnikov’s characteristics.
– It is difficult to say why I was one of the players that Guga feared most. Perhaps because my game was very difficult for Guga, especially on faster surfaces, on hard and covered courts. But, I can only say that every time I faced Guga it was incredible battles, great for fans to watch – said Kafelnikov to GloboEsporte.com.
Gustavo Kuerten looks at Yevgeny Kafelnikov while attending Roland Garros 2000 – Photo: Getty Images
Interestingly, Guga and Kafelnikov have a history of quarter-final clashes. That was the case in 1997, 2000 and 2001 at Roland Garros. It was also at the Sydney Olympics, this time on fast courts, when the Russian won and went on to win that year’s gold medal – still very much felt by Guga.
Guga and Kafelnikov campaigns in RG 2000
|1st round||vs. A.Vinciguerra – 6/0, 6/0 and 6/3||vs. I.Ljubicic – 6/4, 6/4, 3/6, 3/6 and 6/4|
|2nd round||vs. M. Charpentier – 7/6 (5), 6/2 and 6/2||vs. M. Zabaleta – 6/2, 3/6, 6/7 (6), 6/4 and 6/4|
|3rd round||vs. M. Chang – 6/3, 6/7 (9), 6/1 and 6/4||vs. S.Grosjean – 6/3, 6/1, 5/7 and 6/4|
|Round of 16||vs. N. Lapentti – 6/3, 6/4 and 7/6 (4)||vs. F.Vicente – 5/7, 6/3, 5/7, 7/6 (4) and 8/6|
Roland Garros’ 2000 game, however, was what Kafelnikov came closest to winning over Guga in the tournament. He led by 4/2 and 40/15 in the fourth set, having won the previous two. The Brazilian was on the ropes. However, the Russian recalls that he himself had played very tough games in the previous rounds. There were four games and three of them with the dispute of five sets. The tiredness alert was on, and he couldn’t miss that chance. That’s when everything went wrong.
– That game is a great example for me of one that I was having fun, playing well, feeling good on the court. Until that 40/15 of 4/2 in the fourth set. And if you ask me what happened, I probably ran too much. I tried to end the game as soon as possible. I made that mistake. And I didn’t prepare myself for the worst scenario, which would be that Guga could go back and win the fourth set and lead to the fifth. I refused to believe this scenario. I was already thinking “ok, I will win in five minutes, I will go to the locker room and I will be in the semifinal”. That was the big mistake. I started running, I made a double fault, my body started to go into shock, and Guga took that advantage and never looked back. The rest is history – recalled the Russian.
Semifinal – Juan Carlos Ferrero
Juan Carlos Ferrero against Guga at Roland Garros 2000 – Photo: Getty Images
Quite different from Kafelnikov, a player already consolidated on the circuit and ex-number 1 in the world, Juan Carlos Ferrero was a rising star. At just 20 years old, the Spaniard had already shown that he could work at the ATP in Barcelona, in the weeks before Roland Garros, when he made the decision and ended up defeated by Russian Marat Safin.
– I felt really good (at that Roland Garros 2000). Since the previous year I was playing at a very high level, rising in the world ranking. I had done a good spin on clay and arrived at Roland Garros with great feelings. I felt very comfortable throughout the tournament and I had many chances to win the title (…) At that time there were great clay specialists. This year Guga played at a very high level. It was practically unstoppable. I was also very motivated and it was a great match – Ferrero told GloboEsporte.com.
Ferrero did give Guga a lot of work. He played an aggressive game, seeking the lines and giving little chance to the Brazilian’s counterattacks. Like Kafelnikov, he came to turn the tide, having 2 sets to 1 and a break of advantage, in 2/1. But, the feeling of approaching Roland Garros’ big decision made the difference at that moment. The Spaniard felt the chill in his belly and started to make mistakes.
Guga took advantage, tied and turned that set. No problem, he killed the game in the fifth set, already with very high confidence to make 3 sets to 2, partial 7/5, 4/6, 2/6, 6/4 and 6/3. Ferrero confesses that inexperience made the difference at that moment.
– I think the small difference is that he had already won the tournament (Roland Garros) and, for me, that experience was still lacking. It was a very demanding match for both of us (…) I fell against Guga in five sets in the semifinals. For me, it was a great year and my role at Roland Garros gave me an important motivational boost to reach the top of the world – said the Spaniard, who became number one in the world in 2003, the same year that he also won the Grand Slam in Paris.
Gustavo Kuerten and Magnus Norman in the decision of Roland Garros in 2000 – Photo: Getty Images
The opponent of the decision was also an acquaintance of Guga. Magnus Norman, of the same generation as the Brazilian, had been in a great year and competing for the titles on clay. In preparation for Roland Garros, the Swede had won the decision in Rome, but Kuerten made the change in the quarterfinals of Hamburg before winning the title.
Guga even remembered their trajectory and said that when they were teenagers, the Swede did much better in tournaments. However, after a health problem, he believes that Magnus Norman was a little behind in the beginning of the professionals, until the Brazilian beat Roland Garros for the first time: “Probably in 1997 I pulled him”.
The game this time was drawn much more clearly for Guga. With two overwhelming sets, making 6/2 and 6/3, it seemed that the title was a matter of time. It just seemed. Magnus Norman grew up and won the third set by 6/2. In the bedroom, a carousel of emotions. He was ahead, then behind, saved 11 match points (remember this trajectory in the report by Guga’s vision), but he saw the Brazilian celebrate at the end. The Swede himself admits that he let himself be carried away by trust and ended up betrayed in the fourth set.
– That game was tough. To be honest, I think from time to time because it still hurts me. When I had a break up in the fourth set, I was very optimistic. I mixed a lot of emotions. I was feeling the trophy a little. I thought he would be tired (…) I don’t have a good memory. He won the game that still hurts me, but he is a great friend, he has a great charisma – said Norman in 2013 to the Brazilian website Tennis News.
Magnus Norman and Gustavo Kuerten Roland Garros 2000 – Photo: JACK GUEZ / AFP
Currently, Norman works as a trainer for Stan Wawrinka and has achieved a successful career, having a gym in Sweden that bears his name and prepares young talents for the future. The Swiss player, incidentally, beat Roland Garros in 2016 by beating Novak Djokovic in the decision, and Norman believes that his own experience, of losing to Guga in the 2000 final, was a lesson passed to the pupil at the decisive moment.
– I played that Grand Slam final at Roland Garros against Gustavo Kuerten, in 2000, and I can say that the nervousness is very great. But, Stan (Wawrinka) is very good at this. He knows how to handle the pressure – he told the Chilean newspaper La Tercera in 2019.