Tuesday, August 07, 2001

Pressure of No. 1 doesn't get to Kuerten


Brazilian enjoys ATP's top ranking

By Neil Schmidt
The Cincinnati Enquirer

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Gustavo Kuerten has been No. 1 for all but seven weeks of the last eight months.
(Gary Landers photo)
| ZOOM |
        MASON — The world's No.1 tennis ranking can be a magnet for the morose.

        Tortured souls such as Jim Courier, Thomas Muster, Yevgeny Kafelnikov and Marcelo Rios trudged through their reigns — all fairly brief — during the 1990s. Even Pete Sampras is far more personable now that he doesn't have the pressure of protecting that ranking.

        But then there's Gustavo Kuerten, who missed his woe-is-me training.

        “I think I'm enjoying things much more than three, four years ago,” he said Monday after winning his Tennis Masters Series Cincinnati opener against Andy Roddick, 7-6 (3), 6-1.

        Kuerten, a 24-year-old Brazilian, is far from consumed by his reign atop the sport, a perch he has occupied all but seven weeks of the past eight months. When asked how his life has changed, he said, “I try to surf more now.”

        That's Kuerten.

TODAY'S GUIDE
  • Schedule, results
  • Tickets: 11 a.m., 7 p.m. ($18). Call 651-0303 or TicketMaster at 562-4949.
  • Television: 1-3 p.m., ESPN (live)
  • The bracket
  • Ladies Day: There is a brunch featuring the modeling of sportswear and designer-label fashions. It costs $18 for the brunch, $34 for the brunch and that day's matches. Call 651-0303 for information.
  • High School Tennis Day: There will be an on-court clinic and Skyline Chili lunch for $18 a person, including the day's matches ($16 a person for groups larger than 10; $14 for groups larger than 20). Call 651-0303 for information.
  • More Masters facts
        “Guga,” as he is known to his fans, is a laid-back surfer dude who still lives with his family in Brazil. His mother still does his laundry and cooks him breakfast.

        He has a lower profile in America than do Sampras, Andre Agassi and Patrick Rafter, but he uses that to his advantage here by taking trips to Kings Island, where he can roam relatively unimpeded.

        “I think I deserve to enjoy more of my free time,” Kuerten said. “So for me, (the No.1 ranking) is like a blessing. I try to enjoy it as much as I can hold it. Sooner or later, I'm going to lose the position for sure and I don't think I'm going to be upset about it.”

        Since winning the 1997 French Open at age 20, Kuerten has traveled with a publicist who provides daily press releases 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.”)

        But when you are a colorful personality and your na tion's first top-10 player, you find celebrity.

        “I got used to this situation — seeing a crowd around me and the people watching me (at) the tournament or back home,” he said.

        With three French Open titles, he is a dominant presence on clay. His game is still evolving on other surfaces.

        “I feel like every day is a new challenge, trying to get to my best,” he said.

        Though he was included in the ATP's “New Balls” campaign last year, promoting the tour's young guns, Kuerten is a six-year veteran of the tour. Asked for his place in the game, he chuckled:

        “Middle ball, I consider myself,” he said.

       



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