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Kuerten marching toward fourth French Open title

By Associated Press
Published June 1, 2004

PARIS - With the red clay he loves caked on his shirt and shorts, Gustavo Kuerten moved one round closer to his fourth French Open title Monday.

Kuerten took a hard spill in the final game but was unhurt, and five points later he completed a 6-3, 7-5, 6-4 victory over Feliciano Lopez for a berth in the quarterfinals.

"Look at me," Kuerten said, smiling and filthy moments after the match. "This never happened to me in my life. I'm all dirty."

While Kuerten again won despite a sore hip, Marat Safin was unable to overcome hand blisters, and his wild run at Roland Garros ended with a loss to David Nalbandian, 7-5, 6-4, 6-7 (5-7), 6-3.

Safin played with tape on both hands to cover blisters that developed during a five-set victory in the third round Saturday. The 20th-seeded Russian required treatment from a trainer at least seven times, including once in the middle of a game.

Nalbandian, seeded eighth, is one of four Argentines in the men's quarterfinals, a Grand Slam record.

"I'm a little surprised," Nalbandian said. "It's not like this every day. I hope it will be all-Argentine in the semifinal."

That could happen because each men's quarterfinal will include an Argentine - Nalbandian, Gaston Gaudio, Guillermo Coria or Juan Ignacio Chela. Nalbandian faces fellow South American Kuerten on Wednesday.

No. 12-seeded Lleyton Hewitt reached the quarterfinals for the second time when he beat Xavier Malisse 7-5, 6-2, 7-6 (8-6).

Hewitt's next opponent will be unseeded Gaudio, who beat Igor Andreev 6-4, 7-5, 6-3. Andreev upset defending champion Juan Carlos Ferrero in the second round.

Kuerten arrived in Paris seeded 28th and troubled by a right hip that required surgery in 2002. But Roland Garros brings out his best, and he upset top-ranked Roger Federer in straight sets in the third round.

The Brazilian's latest victory was just as efficient. He dominated with his serve and faced only one break point.

"I never expected this to happen," said Kuerten, fighting back tears. "I'm very emotional right now."

He twice requested massage treatment from a trainer but moved well throughout the match, sliding across the clay with his customary grace. One pivotal point sent him from corner to corner and back before he pulled a forehand winner crosscourt, prompting a roar from the center-court crowd.

Kuerten broke for a 3-1 lead in the first set and stayed ahead the rest of the way, wavering only when he was broken serving for the second set. He quickly recovered to sweep the final eight points of the set.

Four points from victory, Kuerten played serve and volley, fell lunging for a shot and rolled onto his back. He arose covered with clay and toweled off with assistance from a ball boy before resuming play.

Kuerten smacked an ace on the next point, hit another to reach match point and put away a forehand volley to finish off Lopez, a Spaniard seeded 23rd.

[Last modified June 1, 2004, 01:00:29]


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