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June 8, 2017

Gustavo Kuerten

Stan Smith

Paris, France




STAN SMITH: Thank you for coming today. As you can see, my name is Stan Smith, and it's a pleasure to be involved with this.

Guga, of course, is one of the great favorites of all around the world, and particularly here at Roland Garros. He was inducted in the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2012. He is now the ambassador, one of the ambassadors, with Martina Hingis of the International Tennis Hall of Fame.

And as you know, the International Tennis Hall of Fame is to promote the history of the game and also to celebrate the great champions of the game and to also promote the game in general.

Those are the three major parts of our mission. Guga has very nicely accepted the mission of being an ambassador for the International Tennis Hall of Fame. As a No. 1 player of the world, he won this tournament three times, and this is the 20th anniversary --


STAN SMITH: Today is the 20th anniversary.

GUSTAVO KUERTEN: I'm getting old. Only me.

STAN SMITH: Only him is getting old. I wish I was as old as he was.

This is the time that we have the induction ceremony for the International Tennis Hall of Fame. And Guga was inducted back in 2012, but this year we are going to have Andy Roddick, Kim Clijsters, Steve Flink, who is here.

Steve, raise your hand. Steve has been inducted as historian and journalist.

And Vic Braden who, unfortunately, passed away. And then Monique Kalkman, the champion wheelchair player will be inducted, as well. This takes place on the Saturday after Wimbledon. What is that date? July, whatever that date is.

So I just wanted to introduce Guga to all of you. Guga, thank you for coming out this morning. It's very early, but the journalists like to get up early. I know you have all been jogging this morning. And we were here, ready to go, at 10:00. Thanks for coming out.

Guga, thank you for being here today, being an ambassador for the Hall of Fame. I will just maybe ask a couple of questions and open it up to all of you.

What was it like to be inducted in 2012?

GUSTAVO KUERTEN: Well, first, thanks, Stan. It's always a pleasure to be around with you and see the special about the tennis in sports itself.

So for me, this is kind of flavor that you cannot imagine. Once you start to play very young kid, I truly didn't even know what is a Hall of Fame? I think I was 20 years old, I believe.

There is a lot to do and motivate people and unite people by the sports, and you have this great platform that we all are very lucky to have.

I believe we, because of the history, we have every window open for us to know the world and to get connect people.

So this was a massive opportunity and gift that I could receive in my life, and I try to get back. I think it's tennis gave me so much, you know. Never expect to go that far.

And even these days be here and still feeling some flavors, remember unbelievable memories that you never forget. That's because there is this yellow ball, some racquets. A very passionate father that came to me and present me this chance of becoming a tennis player.

So once I have to analyze this stage of my life that we are not there, not at the court anymore, but we still receiving a lot, and we still very appreciation more and also getting a lot of emotions from tennis.

I think it's time to dedicate myself, to contribute and give other people chance. In Brazil, it's a mission for all of us to try to transform tennis in the world and also connect people with this sport with the right values to have more hopes to believe in their dreams. Makes a lot of sense.

As more the time goes away, after 20 years, I believe it's a proper timing to analyze more deeply. You can see clear that is not one human being title or triumph. It's many life involved. It's a lot of efforts and achievements that's today I believe we celebrating the happening.

You know, it's not only Guga that's amazing guy. I'm sure it's not coincidence that Dianne is here. She was together with us and Larri and my mother that's around here. What's different now that I have two sons? They can enjoy? I make sure they come over so they will be around today, too, for flavoring.

I believe what stick to us is the feelings, you know. The shots, they are there. We can see at the video. But the feelings, they remain with us forever.

STAN SMITH: Everyone remembers the heart you put in the court. I think of you as salt who has flavored the game in a very special way.

On Sunday, we're going to present Guga with this ring, and this is a ring we give -- we have 252 Hall of Famers, players and contributors over the years since 1954.

After the presentation induction ceremony, which takes place in Newport, Rhode Island, for all the Hall of Famers, we find a special place for each one of the players to give them this presentation of a ring.

In the induction ceremony, we give them a jacket and a plaque, recognizing being inducted in the Hall of Fame, and then later at some time we give a ring like this. We are going to give this ring to Guga at 2:45 on Sunday just before the men's final.

GUSTAVO KUERTEN: I will make sure I come here (smiling). You tell me.

STAN SMITH: One of the things we did in Australia is we introduced Steve and Andy Roddick. Kim was not able to be there, she just had a child. And Monique Kalkman was there.

And we had about 25 Hall of Famers, and it was one of the most fantastic photographs I think we will ever see. We will never see one quite like it, I don't think, because of all the people who were there, all the way from Rod Laver, Margaret Court, John McEnroe, Becker, Hingis. I mean, so many great players that were there.

Anyway, we will have a few players on court Sunday to help with this presentation.

When you think about that first time you won the French, which I guess must have been maybe one of your goals as a young player, what was that like, that day when you won that first title?

GUSTAVO KUERTEN: Actually, we come here to win one match, '97.

STAN SMITH: That was your goal?

GUSTAVO KUERTEN: One match was enough. I never had passed the second round in any Grand Slams. I had played three in all my life. So this was a kind of run you normally don't see.

Still these days I can tell how it happens, just seeing the matches, analyze a little, but you cannot explain, you know, deeply.

But we were somehow prepared. We came here with a lot of desire on this way and very young. So we just, so funny. Was the happiest Roland Garros I played in my life. Also, because I didn't know what all this meaning.

So in '99, I finally come here as a favorite. It was very hard, and I couldn't handle it. '97, I start to discover new worlds or galaxy every single day. Every match I face, from Bjorkman to Muster, then Medvedev, Kafelnikov, the semifinal against Dewulf, and finally getting Bruguera at the end, it's like, Oh, man, this exists. I can be part of it.

Because as Brazilian, also sometimes for us it's a different approach. Because tennis, now it's more universal. But before it used to be more local successful, acquired by the United States or Europe, Australia. So for us as Brazilian, we dream of bigger ball. We have also believe we have success much more in soccer, but tennis was very hard to imagine.

And certainly getting here was trying also to prove myself that could happen to us. Nobody expects, even Larri that was the most optimist from all of us, expect us to go farther than the second week or fourth round, something like this, and it would be already celebrating time.

But at the same way, we were celebrating hard, very satisfied, but not accommodate every single round, which, why we don't try a little bit more and see what happen?

Sometimes I told was perhaps my last chance. I didn't have the truly, deeply belief that I was part of this great players. I just said -- and even today, to listen, the players that we are there, the Hall of Fame, that already received the ring, it's very emotional to hear these words and to think like we are able to get to this select and privilege players to flavor this had happened.

So we, as it happened '97, we came here to our playground to have fun, to discover. My grandmother arrive on the semifinal. She look around, she say, Oh, it's nice here. That's how we dialogue with the French Open.

It's the only chance I had, because if I knew a little bit deeper, it's scary, as you know. First time I went to Court No. 1 and then Suzanne Lenglen and finally to the central court, it's a world to try to control.

And the kids, 20-year-olds coming, you know, hair all around and the clothes. Now it's better. Lacoste helped me a lot in this yellow and blue shirt, and this tennis player, Brazil, is no-sense story. But with a lot of belief, I think this was the difference.

We really believe it was possible. That's the only way you are able to do it.

STAN SMITH: Well, you're now part of the Hall of Fame. It includes arguably all of the great players of all time.

So to be part of that fraternity, it's an honor for me and I'm sure an honor for Guga and all those other people that are in the Hall of Fame and future people. We know that pretty sure Rafa might get in and Federer.

GUSTAVO KUERTEN: We have to analyze? If he wins the 10th, are we gonna give? (Laughter.)

STAN SMITH: If he wins here, he might get in.

The Hall of Fame does represent around the world the best players that have ever played the game.

So we will open up to questions now for Guga.

GUSTAVO KUERTEN: Is it okay to answer in Spanish? Is that okay?

Q. (Question in Spanish.)
GUSTAVO KUERTEN: (Answer in Spanish.)

Q. (Question in Spanish.)
GUSTAVO KUERTEN: (Initial part of answer in Spanish.)

Nadal will have a very difficult match to play. But, yes, Rafa could potentially win up to 15 times. You know, two years ago, nobody really thought he would ever win a Grand Slam tournament again, especially Roland Garros.

Well, today I think he's back, and he's a favorite, as he was a favorite during his best years. So it is very possible, and I think we need to thank him, because he has been a role model. He's not only an excellent tennis player. He is a wonderful person. He is entirely dedicated to his discipline.

Q. Sorry, I don't understand Spanish very well, but...
GUSTAVO KUERTEN: I say everything the same thing in English, okay? (Laughter.)

Q. You said you could imagine Rafa winning the tournament 15 times maybe because he's so strong at the moment? What was the meaning of your answer?
GUSTAVO KUERTEN: Yeah, a little bit about today's Roland Garros, what I see, and especially the view on Rafa that's absolutely amazing. As you see him again so much as a favorite, you can predict three or four more titles, at least.

I also look back two years ago, and I thought it would be very hard for him to come back again. And he has a chance to become No. 1 again, to win, why not? Two or three more years.

And especially when I look back and I think I already -- it was kind of impossible to watch this today, and he's again proving I was wrong. So this is, I think, Rafa mentality. He loves so much the challenge or the impossible that everything is achievable for him. In his mind, there is no impossible.

I don't think we can ever see another guy like this. It's amazing for us that we have been there, the court, even win nine Grand Slams at the same time, in 11 or 12 years. When this can happen again?

I guess it's -- I always ask where he stop his spaceship around, like Roger. It's nice you see these guys playing together. I'm sure that one make the other been much better that they normally will do without these kind of competition.

STAN SMITH: I said that 20 years ago about Borg. No one is going to do better than Borg.

GUSTAVO KUERTEN: You were wrong. I am wrong. I'm going to be wrong, too. It's amazing.

STAN SMITH: It's impossible. But you're right. He's made impossible possible.

Q. You talk about the Hall of Famers, everybody, the great players are all inducted. And you see next generation, new generation coming along. Who do you think has the makers of Hall of Famers? Zverev, Thiem, like you said, players coming along and passing the guard?
STAN SMITH: I will say one thing first. What we do with the Hall of Fame -- and the Hall of Fame may not be familiar with Europeans and South Americans because you don't have Halls of Fame.

But it really is just an organization that recognizes the achievement of players. Players have to have finished their significant careers on the tour, the WTA or ATP Tour, for five years. And at the end of that five years, once they retire, then they are eligible to be inducted in the Hall of Fame.

GUSTAVO KUERTEN: And also, I believe it's fair to say, it's more together with the performance on courts. There is a lot of the contribution to the game.

It's been very helpful these days. The guy, they know what they mean for the world. You see idols like Rafa, Roger, and even Novak, Andy, they understand very well the role model and how they have to act and everything. So this helps a lot the next generation. These guys, they look up and say, Oh, that's the way to do it.

And that's what makes tennis so glamorous these days. You feel they are human, too. They are not away from everybody. They are close. They have the time to spend to you. They understand that people wants to touch and to feel a little bit how is to be. They never going to be able to do the same as them in the court, but they want to be close and connect to the game.

So I think these guys, they probably gonna be there. They are in the right track, in the great moment of tennis in a row. I think our sport, with these amazing idols, it grows every single area.

And at least every part I go, they understand tennis, or either -- like Brazil in '97, they don't understand tennis but they know it exist. They know the players. They know what it is and how seduct it is and how inspired.

So that's the idea. And for sure these guys they have -- if I was able to do it, I think they can have a great chance.

Q. I think for the last 15-odd years, we have pretty much watched the same big rivalry play out. Roger, Rafa, in their 20s. We are watching them in their 30s and actually going into a lot of the majors now looking at the favorites being 30 and above. It's the same guys. Do you think it's just that they are getting better and better and they are peaking a lot more now in their 30s? Obviously then the younger guys just have a lot of catching up to do. How do you see this playing out over the next couple of years?
GUSTAVO KUERTEN: I think it's a very precise moment once they got, during the generation, a great increase of -- as I said before, is not Rafa himself that wins the nine titles. It's many efforts. In these days, they have a huge team to get them support to be able to play for five or -- like Roger, perhaps he's different, but ten more years.

And once you are longer at the field, you become better. If you have the same capacity, you become better. In same ways, you give harder time for the young guys to step up.

So I think it's a huge gap they create between generations that they didn't give up, so they maintain themselves for longer and longer. And the other ones, they had a tough time to break through.

But it is happening right now. You see guys, Thiem, it's the second time on the semifinal. And after, in three or five years, he's gonna be again, again. And for sure Zverev. These guys, they will win the slams for the next years.

What I believe they not achieve so much, because Rafa and Roger, they could arrive younger. You know, they taking long to arrive. So they losing three or five years to get themself at the top.

But they will maintain with the same -- you definitely will see players around their 30s the most successful in tennis. This what happen. Perhaps 50 years later in 40s. We are becoming better. We are living 100 years, 150 years. So I think it's natural.

But it happen right now, so they were able to take more advantage about these circumstances.

STAN SMITH: Players are getting better. Nadal is getting better. Federer is getting better. I think Novak is going to get better, and Andy and Stan have gotten better. The players are getting better. And they see the young guys nipping at their feet, so they are having to get better. It's great.

Q. Six, eight months ago we wouldn't have expected Roger and Rafa to be potentially year-end World No. 1, but let's say Rafa was to win No. 10, what would you say was a bigger deal? Rafa winning No. 10 or what Roger did after so long winning Australia?
GUSTAVO KUERTEN: I think the chase, it's amazing, right? Like the cat and rat, they are one after another. That's my belief. It's because of them both they are so good.

You know, if wasn't Rafa, Roger would be his home, easily come down, but he knows someone is challenging. Who is achieve more? Who had the greatest? And he moves. You know, his energy, it's created by this kind of stimulation.

So once you look like this, in general, you have to take the numbers and go big picture. And Roger has still more pieces on this big scenario.

But winning 10, it's kind of -- I can imagine that someone will win 22 Grand Slams or even 25, 26, 24 Grand Slams. But 10 of the same tournament? It's more hard to understand for myself.

At the same way, what's make me more impressed, I don't think right now that this is going to stop on 10. If he wins this year, you probably will guess that 11 is around the corner.

And if Roger wins Wimbledon, what gonna do? We have to go home and in Australia already tell -- we should stop at the final and give them both a trophy, go home and you are gods.

That's what they are showing to us. It's kind of effort that we feel, Oh, a human being? Amazing. Myself, I can do better. I be inspired by these guys that they are as role models best it could be.

STAN SMITH: A unique time in the game, because we have arguably the best players who ever played the game in Federer, possibly Nadal, maybe Novak. I mean, in the history of the game, it kind of relates to the Hall of Fame to a certain extent, is that we have right now playing at a very, very high level, if not the best, maybe the best players who ever played the game. It's a very unique time right now.

Q. (In Spanish.) You know, during the 20 years, tennis has really changed. In what areas would you say it changed the most?
GUSTAVO KUERTEN: (In Spanish.) I would say that the big players today have great teams. Today's players are very informed, very well-informed, and they are in better shape. Today's players get better year after year. That is why we have today the best players of tennis history. Their longevity is longer than what we have ever seen before, and I believe that this is because players are better informed today. So that is, I think, a big difference.

Tennis has changed a great deal. Techniques have changed. Players today can play for hours or even for months, years, several years at their top level. That was not the case before.

I think since 1987 there has been so much change. Speed in tennis has changed, as well, but there are similarities, as well. But I think that the capabilities of players are so much bigger. I remember, in the past, players retired after a few games. Today they can play five hours, move on to another court, go to another country, and they seem fresh again. They seem to be in great shape.

Back in my time, we needed more time to recover. Today they are much better at being at their top level all the time.

Q. You have spoken about Novak Djokovic or big players now. Do you see yourselves in these players today?
GUSTAVO KUERTEN: Do you see yourself? My hair I don't see around. Your hair?

STAN SMITH: I like your hair.

GUSTAVO KUERTEN: Your shoes I see around.

STAN SMITH: My shoes, yeah.

It's hard to believe there are so many good players out there today that I would hate to play Rafa on this surface.


STAN SMITH: I said to him, actually, it would be like having a root canal to play Rafa on clay and Federer on grass.

I mean, these guys are at a level that is pretty amazing. But they probably would win a couple sets if they played against us. You'd probably kill Rafa, wouldn't you?

GUSTAVO KUERTEN: I believe in my mind, yes. On the real world, probably not. But in my mind, as we build to be so convince on ourself, we still think it, we are always able to do anything.

But these guys, why I really believe it's nice and they also link with the Hall of Fame, it's the way they -- it's how human they are. I think that's how I see myself on them.

I really believe that tennis on the past was a little bit difference. Was hard to get close to the great players around the world. They more superstar. You never see, you never touch. Now you understand more the fear, the doubts, and also the flavors, the happiness. They are these great stars. So a few more connect.

And I think on the way we approach the game, it was like this. And it opens a new kind of chemistry with the fans that I think is still today I can look at them on different -- Rafa is very energetic and strong, and Federer doesn't move, no?

So angry when you see a guy beat you 6-2, 6-3, 6-3, and he's there, Thank you, and don't even sweat. Perhaps Novak is more friendly and smiling. Either one has your way.

But they respect a lot the environment, the tournaments, the people around and this sport itself. So this respect I think creates a love and a passion connection. That's how I look at myself and the game, too.

STAN SMITH: Well, thank you very much for coming out. Thank you, Guga, for coming out. Congratulations.

GUSTAVO KUERTEN: Make sure you come on Sunday, okay? I will be there.

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