Friday, August 13, 1999

Kuerten primed to test Agassi

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Gustavo Kuerten.
(Michael E. Keating photo)
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        MASON — Andre Agassi is the foremost tennis personality of his generation. Now he has competition: A flashy, hard-hitting heartthrob who is immensely popular in his country:

        Brazilians are gaga for Guga.

        That's Gustavo “Guga” Kuerten, who meets Agassi in a quarterfinal today at the Great American Insurance ATP Championship.

        “Andre is maybe the best player on the tour right now,” Kuerten said. “And I'm starting to feel I can play everyone; win tournaments now, too.”

  • Kuerten vs. Agassi, 3 p.m.
  • Series: Tied 2-2.
  • Last meeting: Agassi won 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 at Wimbledon last month.
  • Fun fact: Kuerten was 1998 ATP Tour Charities chairman.
        Agassi, ranked No. 3, won Thursday night for the 22nd time in 25 matches, beating Jiri Novak 7-6 (7-3), 7-6 (7-5). The 22-year-old Kuerten, ranked sixth, has won 18 of his last 22 and 26 of 32 after beating 11th-seeded Tommy Haas 7-5, 7-5.

        Agassi and Kuerten rank first and second, respectively, on the money list this year. In the points race this calendar year, Agassi and Kuerten are first and third.

        “He's playing well on all surfaces now,” Agassi said. “I'll have to be at my best to beat him.”

        In Kuerten's only other appearance here, in 1997, he routed a reeling Agassi 6-3, 6-1 in 45 minutes. That was Agassi's lost season, when his ranking dipped to No. 141, and Kuerten's breakthrough year, when he jumped from No. 88 to 8 in four months.

        “I had a great match, and he wasn't at his best,” Kuerten said. “(Since) that, he has played unbelievable.”

Andre Agassi complains about two line calls.
(Ernest Coleman photo)
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        Agassi's flamboyance is well-known, but Kuerten's story is every bit as colorful. He's a Brazilian beach bum who surfs and sings reggae. He has five major endorsement contracts and $3.7 million in career earnings, yet lives at home with his parents.

        In 1997, he was unseeded and 9-11 on the year when he began the French Open. He had played just 42 career matches. Two weeks before the tournament, he was playing in a small-time satellite event in Brazil.

        Wearing the yellow and blue colors of his country, Kuerten shocked the tennis world by winning the tournament, becoming the second-lowest rank ed player to win a Grand Slam event. Brazil, in search of a new national hero since racing champion Ayrton Senna died in 1994, picked Kuerten.

        Guga's press agent so tired of the interview requests that she began sending out a daily press release on his activities. (Sample: “Guga woke up late today. He went to the dentist. He went surfing in the afternoon. His mother cooked him dinner, and he went to bed early.”)

        Kuerten's ranking slipped into the 20s last year while he adjusted to newfound fame, but he has played well this year, winning two Mercedes Super 9 events.

        “I'm much more ready as a player to handle things,” Kuerten said. “The last four or five years, I was growing, growing, growing. I'm starting to believe more in myself.” MAIN ATP PAGE

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