It was twenty years ago this week that a young Brazilian tennis player burst onto the global tennis scene when he powered through the French Open draw, defeating two past champions en route to winning the 1997 French Open title. It would be the first of three victories at Roland-Garros for eventual Hall of Famer Guga Kuerten. In recognition of an extraordinary career that also saw him becoming the first South American to become world No.1, Kuerten was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2012.
In a special ceremony on Court Philippe-Chatrier just prior to the start of the Men’s Final, this honor was celebrated once again when Kuerten was presented with his official Hall of Fame ring. The Hall of Fame rings are one-of-a-kind pieces that are presented to Hall of Famers at events around the world that have special meaning to the individual, to celebrate their achievements in tennis. Kuerten stepped back onto the court where he has made such great history to the roaring applause of a packed stadium. He was joined in the celebration by many of his fellow Hall of Famers, including President Stan Smith and incoming Hall of Famer Kim Clijsters.
In presenting the ring, Smith commented, "You're a special champion for the world, for Brazil, and particularly here at Roland-Garros. This is a ring that we give to all the Hall of Famers, it has your name on it. Wear it with pride."
Kuerten addressed the crowd and thanked his many supporters. Before the ceremony was a complete, the affable champion was treated to a special surprise as the ball kids surrounded him with 20 tennis balls in the shape of a heart, commemorative of the 20th anniversary of his first Roland-Garros title, the iconic moment that he etched a heart in the clay court for the fans in 2001, and the mutual admiration between Kuerten and the Parisian fans.