The 10 best French Open men’s matches this century: Kuerten-Ferrero, semifinal, 2000
In the pantheon of clay-court classics, it doesn’t get much better than this last-four meeting between former French Open champion Gustavo Kuerten and 16th seed Juan Carlos Ferrero, the latter making his Roland-Garros debut.
In a pulsating encounter that ebbed and flowed for three hours and 38 minutes, the towering Brazilian struggled to contain the confident Spaniard, who hit back in style after losing a tight opener, limiting the 23-year-old to just six games in sets two and three. Ferrero was providing ample evidence of his promise, with the sort of speed, power and inventiveness that would see him briefly become world No.1 in 2003, the same year he won the famous Coupe des Mousquetaires.
Here, though, Ferrero witnessed Kuerten stage an impressive fightback on the terre battue, the ex-champ taking advantage of the younger man’s nervousness and inexperience to turn a 1-3 deficit in the fourth set into a 4-3 lead. The 20-year-old managed to stop the rot in his next service game but Kuerten reiterated his authority, serving strongly down the tee, whipping a backhand into the ad court, then sending a backhand spinning down the line to surge 5-4 ahead. Despite some penetrating hitting from Ferrero in the tenth game, Kuerten returned like a human backboard to set up a decider.
Perhaps the ex-champion’s greater experience saw him through: three years earlier he’d won three consecutive five-set matches, including a heroic quarterfinal dismissal of Yevgeny Kafelnikov having been two-sets-to-one down. In this one, with both players nearing exhaustion, he simply found his groove and swung for the rafters, dispatching a dozen winners while courageously saving three break points brought against him. Though hardly out of his depth, Ferrero was learning a painful lesson – both about finishing off an opponent and the physical demands of the professional game. Kuerten simply wouldn’t be denied, his fluid groundstrokes pushing Ferrero all over the court as he sealed a triumphant 7-5, 4-6, 2-6, 6-4, 6-3 win. He was a worthy French Open champion that year.
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