Gustavo Kuerten bowed out of tennis at the French Open on Sunday with an aching hip, a beaming smile on his face and a host of powerful Parisian memories.
Three-times winner of the Grand Slam tournament (1997, 2000 and 2001) the 31-year-old Brazilian endured more pain from the hip injury that cut him down in his prime before losing in straight sets to Frenchman Paul-Henri Mathieu.
“It was always going to be sooner or later it’s going to finish for me. Nadal, Federer, Djokovic, everybody, one day it’s going to stop,” he said. “One stage of my career was very successful, and I was able to get all the goals that I could. Then the second part was really tough.”
It was immediately after his third triumph at Roland Garros in 2001 that the injury nightmare started for Kuerten.
He tried resting the dodgy hip, eventually went under the surgeon’s knife, but nothing seemed to work.
Finally at the start of this year, he took the gut-wrenching decision that it was over and he immediately pencilled in his farewell for late May and the claycourts of Paris, the stage of his greatest triumphs.
“This tournament was the most special and the most motivating that kept me going, like my love, my heart and everything,” he said.
Kuerten’s farewell drew a capacity crowd on the Philippe Chatrier center-court.
“It was really something special,” Mathieu said. “It was like playing in a final. Everyone was shouting support for Guga. If I could have done so I would have done the same. I don’t think I will ever play another match quite like that, that’s for sure.”