Three-time French Open champ Kuerten says he'll retire this year

Updated: January 15, 2008, 3:29 PM ET
Associated Press

SAO PAULO, Brazil -- Three-time French Open champion Gustavo "Guga" Kuerten will retire from professional tennis after playing at Roland Garros this year.

[+] EnlargeGustavo Kuerten
GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty ImagesGustavo Kuerten, limited by a chronic hip injury, plans on playing in select tournaments, including the Olympics, before retiring.

Kuerten will enter only six tournaments in 2008 before ending his 14-year career, the Brazilian said in a news conference on Tuesday.

"I reached my limit because of my physical condition," Kuerten said. "I wanted to keep playing, participating in the important tournaments. I think I still could play for two or three years if it weren't for the physical part."

A chronic hip injury that needed operations in 2002 and 2004 restricted the lanky Kuerten to only 26 ATP-level matches since late 2004.

Kuerten said the hip injury kept him from playing his best.

"I believe my best years were ahead of me after 2001," he said. "Another two years or so playing competitively and I think I would get closer to results that would put me among the best of all time."

Brazil's only Grand Slam singles winner intends on playing in next month's Brasil Open, three Masters Series tournaments and a challenger before the French Open, which starts on May 25.

He said he will also try to play in Beijing in what would be his third Olympics.

"I just want to enjoy this year," he said. "Enjoy each of these final tournaments I'll play."

The 31-year-old began his pro career in 1995, and earned his greatest success on the red clay at Roland Garros, where he was champion in 1997, 2000 and 2001.

"It always was my favorite tournament," he said. "It would be a perfect goodbye if I could win the title there this year, but we know it's complicated."

Kuerten defeated former champions Yevgeny Kafelnikov, Thomas Muster and Sergi Bruguera to win his first pro title at the 1997 French, becoming the second-lowest ranked Grand Slam champion at 66. In 2000, he had to save 11 match points to top Magnus Norman in the final. He charmed Paris in his successful 2001 defense, carving a heart in the dirt after the final.

He reached No. 1 in 2000 and became the first South American in ATP rankings history to finish the year on top. His limited play has dropped him to 679th.

Along with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, Kuerten is the only active player with three or more Grand Slam titles.

Among the best in the world in the late 1990s and early 2000s, he won 20 of the 29 singles finals he played. The last was in February 2004 on home ground at Costa do Sauipe.

Last year, Kuerten said for the first time that he would retire from the tour if he failed to be competitive in 2008.

"I was very happy playing tennis," Kuerten said. "I surpassed my expectations in all aspects, always with the same pleasure on the court. I was fortunate to find something I loved to do in life and do it."

The Brazilian said he will continue to be involved with tennis after retiring, and will work more actively with the Guga Kuerten Institute, which promotes social projects.

Kuerten has a 358-191 career singles record, with 181 of those wins on clay.

In recent years he was a reserve and a doubles player for Brazil in Davis Cup, a competition in which he has a 34-18 record.

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press