This year marks the 50th anniversary of TENNIS Magazine's founding in 1965. To commemorate the occasion, we'll look back each Thursday at one of the 50 moments that have defined the last half-century in our sport.
Gustavo Kuerten’s enchanted romp through the 1997 French Open was one of the most surprising and popular breakthroughs in tennis history. An unknown 20-year-old from a country, Brazil, that hadn’t produced a major champion in three decades, the long and lanky Kuerten was ranked just 66th in the world before the tournament began.
He began his climb in obscurity, with wins over Slava Dosedel and Jonas Bjorkman. But the by time he had survived three straight, grueling, five-set tilts with Thomas Muster, Andrei Medvedev, and Yevgeny Kafelnikov—two of them French Open champions and one a runner-up—“Guga” had become a household word in Paris. The French took to Kuerten's laid-back surfer’s style, his colorful and exceptionally co-ordinated blue-and-yellow outfits, and his baseline flair, which was highlighted by a roundhouse one-handed backhand.
Kuerten played with a contagious joy over those two weeks in Paris, and by the time he had reached the final, his run had the feel of destiny. He made good on it by stomping two-time French champ Sergi Bruguera in straight sets. But Guga wasn’t through charming the crowd, or the world. When he was presented with the Coupes des Mousquetaires from six-time champion Bjorn Borg, all Kuerten could think to do was bow.