Class of 2012
Singles: World No. 1 (2000)
Grand Slam Results
3-time major champion
ATP World Tour Championships
One-time champion (2000)
Played for Brazil at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games
Member of the Brazilian Davis Cup Team 1996-2003, 2005-2007
Overall Record: 34-18
Singles Record: 21-11
Doubles Record: 13-7
Novak Djokovic is the King of tennis impersonations, and his comedic act has ranged from John McEnroe to Rafael Nadal to Andy Roddick to even Maria Sharapova. In a friendly exhibition match between two friends in Rio de Janeiro in 2012, Djokovic donned a curly brown wig, a white headband and wore the exact same black shirt and white shorts as Gustavo ”Guga” Kuerten. He warmed up like Kuerten, stretched like Kuerten, and hit his serve, forehand, and backhand exactly like Kuerten. For the No. 1 player in the world to pay such homage to a fellow player speaks volumes about respect and admiration.
BRAZILIAN SPORTS HERO
Guga has a legion of adoring fans in his native Brazil. Part lies in his beaming smile, engaging personality, and the high-energy style of tennis he brought to courts all around the world. Another part lies in the fact that Kuerten won the French Open three times (1997, 2000, 2001) and in doing so joined rarified space: only Björn Borg (1974-75, 1978-81), and Rafael Nadal (2005-2008, 2010-2014) have more titles at Roland Garros. He also won his first major title in his third attempt, tied with Mats Wilander as the fastest of any player in the Open Era.
Following his victory in 2001, Brazil issued a postage stamp featuring Kuerten with the Eiffel Tower in the background. He was flamboyant and colorful – always wearing colorful tennis togs on the court – and beloved for his ear-to-ear smile and how he comported himself on and off the court.
CLAY COURT STAR
The road to his first championship as a 21-year-old in 1997 was out of a storybook. When he entered Stade Roland Garros for his first match against Czech Sláva Doseděl, he was ranked No. 66 in the world and had earned just eight ATP World Tour wins. He proceeded to knock off three former champions – Thomas Muster in the third round (6-7, 6-1, 6-3, 3-6, 6-4), No. 3 seed Yevgeny Kafelnikov in the quarterfinals ( 6-2, 5-7, 2-6, 6-0, 6-4), and Spain’s Sergi Bruguera in the finals (6-3, 6-4, 6-2). No one saw it coming; no one could have predicted a Kuerten victory.
The 2000 season was far different story. The clay court specialist who hit with heavy topspin and possessed a potent weapon in his arching, whipping backhand wasn’t sneaking up on the French Open field. He was an established star on the tour, and arrived in Paris as the No. 5 seed. He knocked off No. 4 Kafelnikov in quarterfinals in a carbon-copy comeback victory in a raucous five-setter, 6-3, 3-6, 4-6, 6-4, 6-2 and methodically dismantled Sweden’s Magnus Norman, the No. 3 seed in the final, 6-2, 6-3, 2-6, 7-6. It certainly didn’t hurt Kuerten’s cause that No. 1 seed Andre Agassi lost in the second round and No. 2 seed Pete Sampras was upset in the first round in a memorable match by Australian Mark Philippoussis. Kuerten won five titles in 2000, and rose to a world No. 1 ranking, punctuated by winning the Masters at Lisbon by defeating Sampras and Agassi in the semis and finals respectively – the only player in history to do so. His ascent to the ATP World No. 1 ranking broke an eight-year reign of No. 1 finishes by Americans and was the first time that a South American had ever been ranked No. 1, a slot he held for 43 weeks.
There was no denying Kuerten his third championship in 2001. This time he was seeded No. 1 in Paris and was simply overwhelming in the semifinals, 6-4, 6-4, 6-3 over Spain’s Juan Carlos Ferrero, and coming back from dropping the opening set to pound another Spaniard Alex Corretja in the finals, 6-7, 7-5, 6-2, 6-0.
As the 2002 season unfolded, injuries began to plague Kuerten, and in September 2004 he withdrew from the ATP Tour to undergo hip surgery. The next several years were uneventful, and the player who had won the Italian in 1999, Monte Carlo titles, in 1999 and 2001, and the German Open in 2000 saw persistent health problems shorten his career. Fittingly, he played his last match at the 2008 French Open on the courts where his career had blossomed.
GUGA KUERTEN FOUNDATION
Kuerten—inspired by his late brother Guilherme, who suffered from brain damage during birth and contracted cerebral palsy, founded the Instituto Guga Kuerten in 2000, which is dedicated to helping the disabled by providing developmental opportunities, sports, and education, as well as promoting social inclusion throughout Brazil.
In 1999 he was awarded the Prêmio Brasil Olímpico, the highest award/recognition given to a Brazilian athlete by their country. He was named Brazil’s Athlete of the Year in 1999 and 2000 and awarded the ATP World Tour’s Arthur Ashe Humanitarian Award in 2003. Two years prior to his enshrinement into the International Tennis Hall of Fame, he was honored with the Philippe Chatrier Award by the International Tennis Federation. In 2016, Kuerten was named a Global Ambassador and was honored by his country and the International Olympic Committee by bearing the Olympic Torch during the Opening Ceremony in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
French Open: W 1997, 2000, 2001
Wimbledon: QF 1999
US Open: QF 1999, 2001
Australian Open: QF 1999
French Open: QF 1998