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Tearful Kuerten bids fond farewell
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Gustavo Kuerten briefly rekindled his Parisian love affair on Sunday before bidding a tearful farewell to the French Open.

The Brazilian has enjoyed a special relationship with Roland Garros since he celebrated his third and final triumph in 2001 by drawing a giant love-heart in the red clay with his racket.

He then lay down next to his impromptu artwork and blew kisses to the crowd.

Brazilian player Gustavo Kuerten cries as he holds up an honorary trophy at the end of his French Open first-round match against Frenchman Paul-Henri Mathieu at Roland Garros in Paris on Sunday. Former world No 1 Kuerten retired from tennis after losing 6-3, 6-4, 6-2. AFP

Seven years on and struggling with a hip problem, his final hurrah ended with an emotional 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 defeat by local hope Paul-Henri Mathieu.

"Here is my life, my passion and my love," a moist-eyed Kuerten told the crowd in French after being presented with a slice of clay court encased in glass.

"It's great to be here with my family, my coach. But the most important (thing) is the love you gave me," said Kuerten, who won the trophy in 1997, 2000 and 2001.

There were flashes of brilliance from Kuerten, including saving a match point with a rasping forehand winner that drew applause even from Mathieu.

But, patched up for one final appearance on his beloved red dust, a hobbling Kuerten could coax no more magic from his weary legs and walked into retirement to a standing ovation with cries of "Guga" ringing in his ears.

"He's a great personality and just everybody loves him. I don't know even one guy who says something bad about him. The sport is going to miss him," said Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic.

The Serb was the warm-up act for Kuerten's farewell on centre court and, unfortunately for the crowd, he kept the fans waiting almost 2-1/2 hours as he labored to a 4-6, 6-3, 7-5, 6-2 win over Germany's Denis Gremelmayr.

Hard work

His compatriot and last year's runner-up Ana Ivanovic also had to work hard to defeat Sweden's Sofia Arvidsson 6-2, 7-5.

Serena Williams, eager for a second French Open trophy following her success in 2002, began her campaign with a ruthless 6-2, 6-1 win over Playboy magazine pin-up Ashley Harkleroad.

Noting her fellow American's latest modeling project, which will hit the stands in August, Williams quipped: "I'm just surprised that she beat me to it. Darn."

Djokovic came into the tournament touted as the biggest threat to Rafael Nadal's hopes of capturing a fourth Roland Garros trophy, but during the first set he was made to look like a novice on clay.

Before Djokovic had a chance to soak up the atmosphere on the opening day of the championships, he was 4-0 down. Eventually, he made his experience count to wear down Gremelmayr.

"I'm not really happy with my performance today. I played pretty passively and he used it, he was taking chances and deserved to win the first set," said Djokovic.

In some of yesterday's first round action, Roger Federer's 10th French Open campaign enjoyed a double boost when he negotiated his way past American Sam Querrey and then saw possible quarterfinal opponent Richard Gasquet pull out injured.

Top seed and world No 1 Federer, still missing a Roland Garros title from his collection of 12 Grand Slam trophies, saw off world No 40 Querrey 6-4, 6-4, 6-3 in just over 90 minutes.

He will now face either Spain's Albert Montanes or Kristof Vliegen of Belgium for a third-round spot.

Serbian third seed Jelena Jankovic, who reached the semifinals of a Grand Slam event for the first time here 12 months ago, enjoyed a 7-6 (3), 6-2 victory over Romanian lucky loser Monica Niculescu.

The 23-year-old will next meet either Italy's Tathiana Garbin or New Zealander Marina Erakovic for a place in the third round as she plans to make the most of the shock retirement of Justine Henin, the winner here for the last three years.

Cypriot Marcos Baghdatis, the 17th seed who spent his formative years in Paris, was knocked out 6-2, 6-4, 6-2 by Italy's Simone Bolelli who goes on to face Juan Martin del Potro, one of 19 Argentinians who made the main draw.

Former finalist Guillermo Coria's return to the Grand Slam stage after a gap of almost two years ended in defeat when he was beaten 5-7, 6-4, 6-1, 6-4 by 12th seed Tommy Robredo.

(Agencies via China Daily May 27, 2008)


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