Brazilian tennis legend Gustavo ‘Guga’ Kuerten was honoured at last week’s carnival in Rio de Janeiro to celebrate ten years since he won his third Roland Garros title.
As part of the carnival procession, Kuerten crossed Sapucaí Avenue on a float designed as the Roland Garros trophy and hit numerous tennis balls into the adoring crowd of over 75,000 people.
The former world No. 1 was crowned king of the Parisian clay on three occasions - in 1997, 2000 and 2001 - and won the hearts of the French fans with his energetic and gutsy performances.
He possessed a style of play different to anyone else, frequently adopting a position a long way behind the baseline and relying on spin and craft rather than muscle and power.
Kuerten’s deadly one-handed backhand was poetry in motion, making the ball fiercely kick up off the dirt to push opponents onto the back foot. He also played tennis with a smile on his face.
It was these attributes that the locals warmed to in Paris and the feeling was mutual, never more apparent than when Kuerten displayed his affection by drawing a heart in the clay after his final triumph in 2001.
Fittingly, the Brazilian made his last appearance as a professional tennis player at Roland Garros in 2008. He lost his first round match to Paul-Henri Mathieu, but the sell-out Philippe Chatrier Court crowd had chance to pay homage to their hero.
Representing his country, the Brazilian played in 23 Davis Cup ties and put together a 34-18 winning record. He also led his team to the World Group semifinals in 2000, equalling Brazil’s best ever performance.