Kuerten's feat of clay

The 3-time champ has opponents seeing red

Gustavo Kuerten reacts Monday after defeating Feliciano Lopez to advance to the French Open quarterfinal round.

The Associated Press
Published: Tuesday, June 1, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, June 1, 2004 at 1:11 a.m.

With the red clay he loves caked on his shirt and shorts, Gustavo Kuerten moved one round closer to his fourth French Open title Monday.

Kuerten took a hard spill in the final game but was unhurt, and five points later he completed a 6-3, 7-5, 6-4 victory over Feliciano Lopez for a berth in the quarterfinals.

``Look at me,'' Kuerten said, smiling and filthy moments after the match. ``This never happened to me in my life. I'm all dirty.''

Dominating with his serve and facing only one break point, Kuerten needed less than two hours to complete the fourth-round victory.

Marat Safin's wild run at Roland Garros ended when he lost to No. 8-seeded David Nalbandian 7-5, 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-3.

Safin played with tape on both hands to cover at least eight blisters that developed during a five-set victory in the third round. The 20th-seeded Russian required treatment from a trainer at least seven times, including once in the middle of a game.

Nalbandian is one of four Argentines in the men's quarterfinals, a Grand Slam record. He joined compatriots Gaston Gaudio, Guillermo Coria and Juan Ignacio Chela in the final eight and will play fellow South American Kuerten on Wednesday.

No. 12-seeded Lleyton Hewitt reached the Roland Garros quarterfinals for the second time when he beat Xavier Malisse 7-5, 6-2, 7-6 (6).

Hewitt's next opponent will be unseeded Gaudio, who beat Igor Andreev 6-4, 7-5, 6-3. Andreev upset defending champion Juan Carlos Ferrero in the second round.

Kuerten arrived in Paris seeded just 28th and hampered by a sore right hip that required surgery in 2002. But Roland Garros brings out his best, and he upset top-ranked Roger Federer in straight sets in the third round.

The Brazilian's latest victory was just as efficient.

``I never expected this to happen,'' said Kuerten, fighting back tears. ``I'm very emotional right now.''

He twice requested massage treatment from a trainer but moved well throughout the match, sliding across the clay with his customary grace. One pivotal point sent him from corner to corner and back before he pulled a forehand winner crosscourt, prompting a roar from the center-court crowd.

Kuerten broke for a 3-1 lead in the first set and stayed ahead the rest of the way, wavering only when he was broken serving for the second set. He quickly recovered to sweep the final eight points of the set.

Four points from victory, Kuerten played serve and volley, fell lunging for a shot and rolled onto his back. He arose covered with clay and toweled off with assistance from a ball boy before resuming play.

Kuerten smacked an ace on the next point, hit another to reach match point and put away a forehand volley to finish off Lopez, a Spaniard seeded 23rd.

As a reflection of Kuerten's steady play, he had more winners than unforced errors - 29 to 26 - and won 80 percent of his first-serve points.

Kuerten has been a fan favorite at Roland Garros since 1997, when he won the first of his three French Open titles as an unseeded 20-year-old.

``I have some gray hairs,'' said Kuerten, now 27. ``The rest is pretty much the same.''

On the women's side, the round-of-eight matches are today, highlighted by Serena Williams against Jennifer Capriati in a showdown between past champions.

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