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May 30, 2015

Gustavo Kuerten



GUY FORGET: (From French.) Good morning, everybody. Thank you for being here today with us. I'm the member of the standing committee of the tournament. I'm delighted and honored to introduce you to somebody I know very well. He will talk about his book called French Passion. The French public loved him. Guga Kuerten won the tournament three times. It's a pleasure to welcome him here today. Applause. (In English.) I'm sorry, I started in French. So French Passion, and Guga, thank you very much for being here once again in Paris.

GUSTAVO KUERTEN: Thanks, Guy. We plan this long time, huh, for you come here and present myself. Thanks for your friendship. That's the secret for me to win here two times a least. Thank you, my friend. Good morning. Well, today the idea, it's just to present to you a little bit of these memories I believe that I tried to describe. Was very deep in the good search on my life to try to understand a little bit better my history. Of course that's a lot to do about this tournament and the French relation. We thought the best idea would be launching out of Brazil for the first time in France, at Paris, at Roland Garros. That's where everything rise. My biggest dream start to flash in my head on '92 when I was first coming on this tournament. Today was funny, because I walk in from the car around 11:00, 11:30, and that's where everybody is arriving. It's full back outside; lines everywhere. That's how I feel on the first time. I was 15 years old. Larri took us in the train station. We come walking here, and we couldn't find the courts. Suddenly we start to see more people. Then it's like you feel the smell. It's something gotta happen. It's so special. And finally the stadium. We finally got ourself at the Roland Garros Stadium after talking to the guy at that gate. We are tennis players from Brazil. Please let go in. We don't have tickets, but we gonna play the juniors. Okay, okay. Larri told us to put a lot of sand in the socks, and then the guy would believe we are real tennis player with the racquets here. Okay, go, go. Enjoy. It seems like yesterday, because the first time I put my feet on this place I knew I want to be part of this story, of this chemistry and this ambience. Was so magical from the beginning. Then every year we try to get a little bit closer. I didn't imagine I could one day rise the trophy. The idea was just to live the experience on Roland Garros. This was the day I would decide I would be a professional tennis player, because until that stage with 16 years old, 15 to 16, I haven't been in one professional tournament, any tournament. So that's where I discover what's professional tennis is. It's like I fell in love for the first time, you know. It's so intense, so important. All my success, it happens to be here, as well. So it's the proper place to come back and enjoy the same feelings. And basically the book, it's all the route I drove on my life to the success. Thanks, Guy. Appreciate it. You know myself already too much. I feel shy when you are around. If you go, I can tell it better. (Smiling.) From all this line that we construct, basically I try to show the feelings I felt during the way. And that's how I feel, that it's myself as a person and as a tennis player. A lot of passion, a lot of emotions. The book, I believe, brings this kind of sensations for the ones who are discovering a little bit better. So that's the main idea. I would open for you to any questions you like to make, but it's really another dream come true, you know, from the beginning, especially as a kid. So many things that happen I couldn't imagine. If I would guess one day I'd be here at French Open launching my book, would be maybe going crazy on my thoughts. But certainly I think it's very related to my life. It's very genuine and it's been very enthusiastic to be back here and be able to show a little bit of my feelings during this journey.

Q. A lot of times when people write a book they kind of, as the process is going, discover something about themselves, or a couple of things. What did you discover about yourself while you were writing the book? I don't speak Portuguese or read French. You'll have to tell me.

Q. A little bit, but not enough for those pages.
GUSTAVO KUERTEN: We come in English, okay? I promise. Maybe Spanish first. No problem. Well, I believe it's a really interesting and intense understanding of my own life or either many lives. I could be sure and realize even more the importance of people surround me during this investigation. Was around the four to five years to -- over the interviews and starting all the process that we did from the book. The crucial things I think I believe was the Larri, my mother, and brother, and even my father that I spend only eight years with him, the way they commit themself for my own goals. My brother stopped playing tennis 15 to 16 years old to let me try, because we did not have money to both of us. So he stepped out for me to have a better chance. Another stage, we had to sell the car, piano. My mother had some jewelry. She was able to sell our house if we need to to try our chance. It's really a measure of this commitment of many people. I think this made myself stronger during the way. I could understand I got this strength at the end once we are playing here for three hours, four hours, and then losing two sets to love, two sets down. I had this amazing power inside because the experience I flavor over the -- the Guga that arrive from kid and was watching this brave mother raising three sons without a husband and one handicapped children. And also the example of my handicapped brother, of being no legs and being happy of just being able to hand a spoon or a fork, you know, simple things. That's how I think I understand better how I become, because these amazing examples. Certainly if we relate it to tennis, a little bit what was how I built my reputation as a tennis player. I had a lot of struggle in the beginning to win match. My mother, she's social assistant. From the beginning, because of my brother at home, it's normal to help other people and then try to all the time look for the people. Then suddenly I have to play and I have to beat another person. It was very hard for me at the he beginning to watch someone going out of the court crying with 12, 13 years old. I say, Oh, my friend. Oh, so sad. And then I lose the match and then he was laughing; I was crying. (Laughter.) I said, No, that's not fun, too. So how I have to improve and what I have to learn to be efficient as a tennis player and to become a champion? And then Larri was crucial for incentivate this soul of a big champion. In a certain stage, around 17, 18 years old, I was in the middle of the way. I look to Larri and I say, Hey, kill the guy. You have to win the match. I look my mother, No, you have to be nice for people. Once I talk to them, they say, Oh, you better talk to each other and decide, because I'm confused what I need to do. So this was a little bit I try to explain how was the experience on doing the book. To understand better, the chance for me to write this page was 0.0000001% or even less. Just the chance to have tennis racquet 10 years old in Brazil on that time was already 0.001. So there's many decisions that was made in my life that I didn't took the -- it wasn't made myself. Was already other people that somehow got it going and helped me to make it happen. It's really strange what we are able to create. So that was fascinate about going deep on the small details and basically just how I described to you what I could feel after three or six months doing this. What I really would like to show, it was my feelings during all this way as improving and changing and going up and down and happiness and sad. Basically it's not -- it's a common human being, but a very unusual life. This make us a little bit of the interesting about this story, too. Because can be in the title, it's like a Brazilian guy. It's one in 180 million when I born, but somehow it's a unique story. Intriguing. I think I will be five, ten more years and I start to discover small details of my life where happen that make this to happen. Sorry about my English. I need to practice. It's hard.

Q. My question is about Kei Nishikori, Japanese player. I know that you have played with him about eight years before in Miami doubles. What do you think about his play nowadays? Is it possible for him to get trophy of Roland Garros from you?
GUSTAVO KUERTEN: I think is he in the book? I think he is. I'm not sure. I played him in Miami together many year, 20 years ago? How many years ago?

Q. Eight.
GUSTAVO KUERTEN: Eight years only? He was already a very talent player. I think Michael Chang helped a lot to improve his game. I'm sure he has the potential of winning here in Roland Garros. The only problem is Nadal. He doesn't let anyone win. (Smiling.) Every year he's doing the same. All the other players, even Djokovic that I believe is the top favorite, has this big circumstance, how to beat Nadal. And I will think about the trophy, but I will be there handing the trophy. I'm not sure about him, but I will make sure I will be there. I hope he will have a chance, because it's nice, you know, to have these new characters in tennis, especially from Asia, someone bringing more people involved to the sport. Kei is a good friend. I hope he can make it through. If he makes, I promise I will learn some Japanese word to congratulations him.

Q. Congratulations about your book. Is there any shocking revelations in the book, something which you have always wanted to tell but you were not comfortable then? Anything surprising in that book? And also, my second question is, when you handed over the trophy to Nadal years back, did you ever think he was going to win nine more titles here?
GUSTAVO KUERTEN: Well, there's nothing in particular that I couldn't tell at the time. I believe the difference is just understanding better, going a little bit deeper and knowing the details, and also getting to know before '97 how was my life, and certainly how we are able to create a condition for me to become a champion. Because after '97, most of the people know very much about how I am. I think one of the nicest things we could do is really -- it's a pleasure that Diana is here, because at that time we create this personal public relation with the media that helps a lot for us to be genuine, to be clear. I was very easy doing how I am, if I play well or bad. I think this was measure of sports. Just having people knowing what's going on on my daily life was important to me, for them to understand. In Brazil when we started they didn't know more than half of the people or 80% of the people didn't know how to understand things. What's 15-30? What's this one game, set? All strange. So we needed to be more close to them, to make them understand. And that's how it didn't create a gap or secret in my life. I think we have never had this kind of situation. So what's the main difference is you can go a little bit inside my head better. And this can be dangerous. (Laughter.) Because sometimes even being a top player, it's really hard once you are there at the court. You doubt a lot. You think you're not going to get. The second time I won here the tournament, the final against Norman, after match point it was like a roller coaster of feelings. I doubt in my mind if I would ever win again the French Open. Oh, my God. And then the umpire, I wanted to throw him 200 meters in the -- these thoughts take us more close to anyone who was walking around. Because we are not supermen down there just playing tennis and forget about all the world. We try to do this, but is really hard. That's why you practice. We try so much, and then again. This, I think it's nice to understand better. But beside of that, there is no real particular thing that I could show up. Nadal? I didn't expect him to win that much, but perhaps not either him. Because it's really too much. Nine of ten years. I'm sure it will never happen again. It's impossible. So how can -- if he would think this way would be amazing, but he lives this way. Perhaps he didn't think that much whether bet on expectations, but he live this way. It's amazing. Every day he is building. On that time it wasn't so clear for me, but I watch when he won the fifth or the sixth title. He was rising the trophy, and I could see he was think about the next year already. It's amazing, this. See the guy already. I did what I need. Now I'm already thinking on the next one. He's so strong on this. It's hard to do this. It's easy to talk about this stuff and to try to tell your player or friend, Oh, put this in your head; believe in yourself. But to do, it's really hard. I try to joke or make this spaceship, because he's not from this world. He's spaceship in the park somewhere.

Q. What do you remember from when you won in 1997? It was so unexpected in a way. Did you feel, after that when the pressure and how you dealt with the expectation then - eventually you did come back - but those couple of years of '98 and '99, the expectation to do well here?
GUSTAVO KUERTEN: Yeah. The amazing thing on '97 was no pressure. I write it how it happen, but why? I don't know many of the circumstances, but the feeling I had was no pressure at all. I was playing against the best after the third round, Muster, Medvedev, Kafelnikov. Suddenly we stop 2-All on Medvedev on fifth set. I tried to sleep, because I couldn't sleep for one hour, two hours. But in certain stage you are three, four hours try to sleep that you try to fool myself. You know, Ah, okay, I will make it. I will pretend I'm sleeping. I will pretend I'm sleeping. I know I'm not going to sleep anymore. So the next day I come back. I was able to beat him 7-5 in the fifth. Then being two sets to one down against Kafelnikov, I start to find solutions for things that I didn't know how to handle it. This was for sure no pressure at all. We understand Roland Garros much smaller than is now, and this help me a lot. Because I didn't know what's the impact and the real meaning of Roland Garros on '97. If I knew what's all this about, I would be shaking for sure. So I think we could win on that year because we saw very simple: Let's play. Doesn't matter. And then especially at the third round on the Court No. 1 against Muster; I was losing 3-0 in the fifth set. I start to play more relaxed for my brother. He is very patient. I was complaining a lot. Oh, I can't take anymore. I couldn't run anymore. Muster was killing me. One side to the other, I was like this already, No, I'm done, I'm done. He said, Guga, you're not like this, man. Come on. You always fight. You never give up. My brother is very calming, and he suddenly was screaming at me. I said, Okay, okay. My older brother. I have to listen to him. And then I try to play more relax, and people start to cheer me on for the first time. Allez, Guga; Allez, Guga. And this change. I still very emotional. I remember, because this -- I connect to another level that I didn't know exist. I start to play in another dimension. This was a part of Roland Garros that a new Guga would come up and try to investigate. This was the way I feel powerful and where I could find my strength. And from that feeling, I was -- that was scare me all during all '97. When I finished playing Kafelnikov, I tell in the book I was 30 hours from the match that I beat Medvedev to the next one against Kafelnikov. Was around 24 to 30 hours of gap. I tried to convince myself that I could beat him; I couldn't. I got to the court and I couldn't understand and couldn't be sure that I would beat one guy that was much better than me. Larri, No, but you can go. Play strong to the forehand. Be aggressive. I was thinking, Larri, he believed perhaps, because for me was so strange that I couldn't believe that Larri would -- or he was lying to me just to give me a better approach to the match. It was very far away from us. Then after three hours it's amazing, because I was play against him and losing two sets to one. I saw him a little bit tired the other side, and for the first time after two-and-a-half hours play a match I feel that I had that chance, that I had opportunity. And this, you know, like open your mind; get the conviction. I was able to beat him, and from that match I knew this would be my title. It's amazing, because '97 I didn't made any semifinal or final in any other tournament. But after Muster, Medvedev and Kafelnikov, this would be my tournament. I know that's for me right now. That what's happen. In '98, was much more difficult. I hope this tournament finishes as fast as possible because was like carrying, It's gonna happen, it's gonna happen. But was the experience I need to come back here in '99 and in 2000 and be able to repeat.

Q. Can you tell us a little bit about what your life is like now, what you do and your family and stuff. Catch us up.
GUSTAVO KUERTEN: It's normal but unusual life. Now is more like father being at home and enjoy this amazing part of my life that it's happen. I have a girl three years old and a boy about to become two. Still very involved with tennis. My foundation, we have the kids around 700 kids that we help. I'm building a tennis school in Brazil for young players, too, from 4 to 10 years old. The goal is to finish this year with 30 schools. We have around 1000 players already. It's all around Brazil, many other cities. I'm involved with some Olympic committee for Rio 2016. I'm working a lot still. Sometimes I read it, Gustavo Kuerten retire. I said, Not really. But this is how I fulfill a little bit the gap of not being at the court. It's so intense to be out there. These feelings is so amazing that I think I do much more things to supply a little bit this motivation that I had at the past.

Q. Do you play much tennis?
GUSTAVO KUERTEN: I can't still. I did my hip replace two years ago. I'm a little very involved on my rehabilitation. Every day I'm doing exercise. Around two hours every day committed to this, but still didn't get through. I hope I can enjoy a little bit on tennis more. Would be amazing to be at the courts and just for fun to sweating a little bit. My last time was against Novak. We played in Rio exhibition match. He put my wig. He act like me. He play better than me and acting like me playing better. That's how amazing he is. Unfortunately, I cannot flavor any more of these feelings. But still in my mind, hopefully in the future I can be back a little bit at the courts.
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