It's Kuerten's For French Open

Defending champion Gustavo Kuerten won his third French Open title, beating Alex Corretja in four sets Sunday and carving a heart into the court to thank his fans.

The top-seeded Brazilian won 6-7 (3), 7-5, 6-2, 6-0, closing the match on his fourth championship point when his opponent sent a forehand out.

Kuerten then drew a heart in the red clay with his racket, as he has done before at Roland Garros. He then dropped to his back inside the heart in tribute to his fans, some waving Brazilian flags.

"It was great feelings, it was a big fight," Kuerten said. "I was nervous like always."

Kuerten, the world's No. 1 player, won the title in 1997 and 2000 and is only the sixth man to capture three titles at Roland Garros. He is the first to do so since Mats Wilander earned his third in 1988.

"When I lost the third set I lost my game and he was too good for me in the fourth set," said Corretja, who was a runner-up in 1998 and was seeking his first Grand Slam title.

Brazilian fans chanted "Gu-ga! Gu-ga!" throughout the match and began beating on samba drums as soon as Kuerten's victory was sealed.

"This year I'm going to speak to you in French," Kuerten said as he received the winner's trophy.

He congratulated Corretja for a great match and said, in French, "I love playing at Roland Garros, I love playing for you, thank you for supporting me."

Kuerten lost the first set in blustery conditions on center court, setting up a first set point by sending a backhand volley into the net. He lost the set on a double fault.

Corretja, seeded 13th, blew a break point at 5-5 in the second set with a wide backhand, and Kuerten held serve to lead 6-5. He broke the Spaniard to take the second set.

Kuerten cruised through the remaining sets as the wind settled down, ending the 3-hour and 12-minute match with an eight-game winning streak.

After a second-round loss in 1998 and a quarterfinal loss in 1999, Kuerten captured Roland Garros again last year. This year, he was on the brink of a straight-set elimination by an American qualifier, Michael Russell, who held match point in what would have been one of the biggest upsets in Grand Slam history.

But Kuerten made a great escape. He won a 26-stroke rally and went on to take the match.

"I was blessed," he said.

By Michael McDonough
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