Ten times, Gustavo Kuerten was one point from the French Open title Sunday, only to have Magnus Norman find a way to stay in the match.
Finally, on the 11th championship point, Norman hit a forehand barely wide, and Kuerten won a sloppy but thrilling final 6-2, 6-3, 2-6, 7-6 (8-6).
Every time I thought I was going to win, and then it was one more, and one more, and one more, Kuerten said.
It took the Brazilian 3 hours, 44 minutes to earn his second French Open title.
Norman faced the first championship point serving at 4-5 in the fourth set, and he hit a forehand that Kuerten thought landed wide. But umpire Francois Pareau climbed out of his chair, looked at the ball mark and ruled the shot good, making the score 30-40.
Kuerten argued briefly, but the drama was just beginning. Norman won the next point and a third championship point in the game as well.
Then another close call went against Kuerten: He hit a forehand that was first called good, but an overrule by Pareau gave Norman the point and the game, making the score 5-5.
As the tension built, Norman saved four more championship points serving at 5-6, finally winning the 24-point game when Kuerten dumped a backhand into the net.
That forced the tiebreaker. Kuerten took a quick 3-0 lead, Norman rallied to 3-3, and Kuerten went ahead 6-3.
That gave the Brazilian three more championship points, and each ended with a Kuerten error -- a lunging forehand long, a wild backhand and then another forehand long.
At 6-6, Kuerten regrouped with a service winner for 7-6. Norman then slugged a forehand that landed just wide, giving Kuerten the victory. He also won the title at Roland Garros in 1997.
Here I am again, the 23-year-old Kuerten (pronounced Keer-ten) told the crowd during the trophy ceremony. I'm so happy to be here.
|Magnus Norman throws his racket during his early frustrating play Sunday in the men's final.(AP)|
The scruffy, scrappy Brazilian overtook Norman atop this year's ATP rankings race and earned about $600,000. Norman received about $300,000).
You did a great job, Norman told Kuerten. You really deserved to win.
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.
The fifth-seeded Kuerten dominated the first 90 minutes but then began to tire, and the third-seeded Norman won six consecutive games to gt back into the match.
Kuerten, bothered by a sore back and pushed to five sets in his previous two matches, received back and calf massages from a trainer and looked increasingly weary as the match tightened.
But then, down a service break in the fourth set, Kuerten caught his second wind. He broke back, then held serve for a 5-4 lead to set the stage for the wild finish.
The matchup of the hottest players on the men's tour was a mismatch at the start, with Norman erratic in his first Grand Slam final. The normally steady Swede, apparently unnerved by the occasion, trailed 4-0 after just 15 minutes.
Norman changed his racket, changed his shirt and finally changed his luck, winning the final five games of the third set.
A patient Kuerten rarely ventured inside the baseline at the outset. Instead he kept his groundstrokes deep, mixed in a few drop shots and waited for his opponent's mistakes to mount.
Norman uncharacteristically was called for two early foot faults, a sign of nerves. He shanked several forehands, including one that sailed 30 feet high to end the second set.
The capacity center court crowd was divided in its loyalty, chanting Kuerten's nickname of Guga, Guga, but also rooting for the Norman comeback that finally came.
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