Glorious Guga looks to turn back clock

PTI | ByAllan Kelly (AFP), Paris
May 28, 2004 12:52 PM IST

Glory years for the 'King of Clay' may be behind him, but Gustavo Kuerten is hoping for one more day in the sun at the French Open.

The glory years for the "King of Clay" may be behind him now, but Gustavo Kuerten is hoping for one more day in the sun at the French Open.

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And he would love that to happen on Saturday when he takes on World No. 1 and tournament favourite Roger Federer of Switzerland in the top match of the third round.

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The portents do not look good for the ever-popular "Guga" who wowed the crowds at Roland Garros with his dashing hat-trick of wins in 1997, 2000 and 2001.

Injuries have taken their toll especially on his hips and the ever-faster pace of the game does not suit his stand-back-and-belt-it style of play.

On top of that Federer is playing superb tennis and the Wimbledon and Australian Open champion is clearly the best player in the world at the moment.

Kuerten though says it may not be a hopeless case when they take to the centre court on Saturday.

"I struggled in my first match and could have gone out of the tournament, but the second game (straight sets win over Gilles Elseneer of Belgium) has given me extra breath. Got me going better," he said.

"For me it's more enjoyable, more fun to play far in the tournament against the top seed. I am much more enthusiastic and can push myself harder."

What that means though for the 27-year-old Brazilian is constant treatment on his creaky hips and regular encounters with the pain barrier.

This year at Barcelona he retired from his quarter-final match with Gaston Gaudio because of his right hip and subsequently withdrew from the Masters Series events in Rome and Hamburg.

But Paris, Kuerten's favourite event, is altogether another matter, and one he had no intention of missing.

"I have to take anti-inflammatories, some treatment off the court, you know, having some physio, in the swimming pool," he said. "I'm just trying to take the pain away, but it's not easy.

"Always when I am playing the match, the pain comes around very easily, so I need some help from the trainers.

"The pain down there in the court, it's not easy to deal with, but so far I've been suprised the way I can hang in there."

Kuerten's injury woes may have left him as the underdog but Federer says he is taking nothing for granted in what will be only the third encounter between the two players.

The Brazilian won their last match on hardcourts at Indian Wells last year with Federer winning their only clash on clay so far the previous year in Hamburg.

"For me this next match is difficult enough and I am not looking any further at the moment," said Federer.

"It sounds very boring as usual, but I can't do it any differently because that would show a lack of respect towards Guga."

Cautious words from the No. 1 seed, but understandable given the prospect that awaits him with the "King of Clay" looking for what could be a final samba on the court where he once reigned supreme.

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