Tennis

Kuerten wins French Open

He threw his racquet, yelled at himself and even made a gallant come-from-behind charge. But none of it was enough to propel Magnus Norman to the top of the French Open.

Fifth-seeded Gustavo Kuerten beat the third-seeded Swede in three hours and 44 minutes in a four-set final at Roland Garros (6-2, 6-3, 2-6, 7-6).

Kuerten, 23, also took the title in 1997 for his first Grand Slam win.

Appearing in his first Grand Slam final, the 24-year-old Norman appeared nervous and unfocused in the early going, committing 34 unforced errors in the first two sets.

Kuerten stymied his opponent with precision drop shots and carefully placed forehands when Norman, down 30-0 in the second game of the second set, threw his racquet to the ground in disgust after firing a routine forehand wide.

After the outburst Norman appeared to regain his focus and came back to win six straight games and take the third set.

Around the 90-minute mark Kuerten started to tire and required back and calf massages from a trainer as the match wore on.

Kuerten had earlier defeated Juan Carlos Ferrero to get to the final. Norman knocked off Argentinian Franco Squillari for his berth.

While down a service break in the fourth set, Kuerten caught his second wind. He broke back and was able to hold serve for a 5-4 lead to set the stage for the dramatic finish, which was won on the eleventh championship point.

Norman faced elimination the first time while serving 4-5 in the fourth set, when he hit a forehand that Kuerten disputed. Umpire Francois Pareau ruled the shot good, making the score 30-40. The next point was also won by Norman, who won the game two points later, evening the set at 5-5.

As the tension built, Norman was able to save four more championship points serving at 5-6, finally winning the 24-point game when Kuerten hit the net with a backhand. That forced the tiebreaker, where Kuerten took a quick 3-0 lead. Norman then rallied to 3-3, and Kuerten went ahead 6-3.

Each of the next three championship points ended in an error for Kuerten, as he fired two forehands long and a wild backhand.

At 6-6, Kuerten regrouped with a service winner to make it 7-6. Norman then slugged a forehand that landed just wide, giving Kuerten the victory.

"Every time I thought I was going to win, and then it was one more, and one more, and one more," an exhausted Kuerten said.

The win places Kuerten atop the ATP rankings race and nets him 4.24 million francs (about $600,000 US). Norman now moves to number two on the list. He received 2.12 million francs (about $300,000 US).

During the match the capacity centre-court crowd split its loyalty between the two players. The early going clearly belonged to Kuerten, with the crowd chanting his nickname of "Guga! Guga!" Norman started to get the louder applause during his comeback when he temporarily took charge of the court.

After the match, a small group of Brazilian students playing percussion instruments celebrated the victory by leading several dozen fans in a victory procession through the crowd.

"You did a great job," Norman told Kuerten after the match. "You really deserved to win."

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