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Kuerten outplays top seed

5/29/2004

PARIS -- Inspired by the familiar chants of "Guga! Guga!"
at Roland Garros, three-time champion Gustavo Kuerten upset
top-ranked Roger Federer 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 Saturday in the third round
of the French Open.

Kuerten has been slowed lately by a sore right hip that required
arthroscopic surgery in 2002. But Guga -- his nickname -- played like
the Kuerten of old, breaking serve twice for an early 2-1 lead and
holding his final 14 service games without facing a break point.

The result delighted the crowd on center court, where Kuerten
has been a fan favorite since winning his first French Open title
in 1997 when he was 20 and unseeded.

"It's been a love story since the beginning,'' the amiable
Brazilian said. "I came here in bad shape, playing bad. But every
time I go on the court, it seems something special happens with the
love and passion I have for the tournament. That brings the best
out in me."

It was another disappointing French Open result for Federer, the
reigning Wimbledon and Australian Open champion. He lost in the
opening round at Roland Garros in 2002 and 2003.

"The last three years haven't been the best for me here,"
Federer said. "I just didn't play like I can. This is a little bit
of a disappointment for me. I can play better."

Kuerten, in contrast, advanced to the fourth round for the sixth
year in a row.

"This tournament every year makes me go over my limit," said
Kuerten, seeded 28th. "It's amazing to beat the No. 1 in the
world, a guy who's playing great tennis."

Kuerten needed only one service break in each of the final two
sets -- for a 2-1 lead in the second set and a 3-2 lead in the
third. He closed out the victory with a service winner, then hopped
and screamed in jubilation.

Federer's downcast demeanor during the match was reminiscent of
Pete Sampras on a bad day. Federer said he struggled with his
footing on the clay and with lively balls on the warmest afternoon
of the tournament -- 78 degrees and sunny.

He won his second Hamburg title on clay this month but said he
needs more experience at Roland Garros, where the size of center
court bothers him.

Kuerten was also a factor, Federer said.

"He served good today, and he was better," Federer said. "He
deserves everything the fans give him here."

In a match that finished at dusk, No. 20 Marat Safin won his
second five-setter in a row, overcoming two match points in the
fourth set to beat qualifier Potito Starace 6-7 (4), 6-4, 3-6, 7-5,
7-5.
Safin, who caused a stir in the second round by dropping his
shorts to celebrate a point, this time had the crowd booing for his
injury timeout. He needed to have his left hand taped when Starace
was serving for the match in the fourth set.
After Safin closed out the victory, he walked off center court
to a mix of cheers and jeers.

Kuerten next plays No. 23 Feliciano Lopez, who beat Lee
Hyung-taik 7-6 (3), 4-6, 6-0, 6-3.
No. 19 Martin Verkerk, the 2003 runner-up, lost to No. 12
Lleyton Hewitt 6-2, 3-6, 4-6, 6-2, 6-1. No. 8 David Nalbandian
ousted Stefan Koubek 6-7 (1), 6-3, 7-6 (1), 7-5.