by Pete Bodo
When he met with the press yesterday he was asked how he felt about it, and he admitted that the honor was unexpected. “First, that soon was kind of surprise for me. I just finish playing three, almost four years ago. The time flies, eh? Seems like it was yesterday.”
He makes a good point, but let’s keep in mind that "Guga" played — tried to play, given the debilitating injuries that marred and curtailed his career — for four-and-a-half years after he won his third and last title at Roland Garros in 2001.
Kuerten won three French Open titles in five years, which may not rival Rafael Nadal’s record but it was the best since the heyday of Ivan Lendl and eclipsed the stats of some extremely high-value clay-court names, including (Guillermo) Vilas, (Jim) Courier, (Sergi) Bruguera, and (Thomas) Muster. In the Open era, only Lendl, Mats Wilander and Bjorn Borg won three or more French Opens before Guga.
So I had to ask: is does Kuerten celebrate or regret the fact that he doesn’t have to match the era of Roger Federer, Nadal, and Novak Djokovic?
Guga laughed, and tugged the bright yellow trucker’s cap a little lower over his brow. He admitted, “A little bit of both. . .”
But his thoughts on the subject were classic Guga, and go a long way toward explaining why he was always such a beloved figure.
"I'm happy mostly because I truly believe that these guys that I considered some genius, they are better than the best to have. They are one of the best ever. Perhaps Djokovic still (needs) a little bit more time for us to be sure of this. But Rafa and Roger, they are completely one of the best five players all times.
"I think I contribute on this way — even knowing that they are like kind of super heroes, they are very they have the access for the people. They are around. You can feel them more close to a human being. . . I think that was a big contribution that I did to bring the tennis a little bit more close to humanity, you know, more easy to understand for all classes around.
"In Brazil, for me it's a great pleasure when I see guys (who) sometimes have a hard time to write or to count, and they know 15-30, 30-All, break point.”
We all laughed at this. Guga continued:
“It's hard to understand how it's possible, but right now I can go this deep and feel this pleasure of (my) contribution to tennis. So that's why these guys I think would be great for me. (It) would be amazing time to be connected with them. . . (tennis) is becoming more popular every year. . . We are not only talking about (just) the class A or rich guys. We are talking about regular people that seen on them an inspiration and a person that’s more touchable.”
About Rafa’s frozen-rope forehand, Roger’s wasp-ish serve, or Nole’s hammer throw backhand Guga had nothing to say. That he was able to create such a stunning resume with his sensibility is a great achievement; right up there with having won three majors.