Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Farewell Guga

This year’s French is so far more about who isn’t here than who is. Justine Henin quit. Andy Roddick, who has been on a roll and actually had a good clay court showing, pulled out with a shoulder problem. Lindsay Davenport isn’t playing for personal reasons (probably, why schlep the baby to Europe for the clay court season when I hate it). And Gustavo Keurten played his first grand slam match in three years, lost, and here bids adieu to the crowd. (Practice your French)

The French presented Guga with a slice of the clay court beneath glass. It was really cool.

Guga was a three-time champion, and in the fever for three-timer Nadal it’s easy to forget that Guga had won three before he fully reached his prime. A hip injury destroyed Guga’s career right as he was hitting his stride on other surfaces. He was the number 1 player in the world once. After the hip he had trouble even getting back on the court. The same thing happened to Thomas Norman, the Swede who was a finalist in Paris before a hip injury forced him to retire as well.

But somehow Guga isn’t bitter about how his career ended. He’s endured some major losses in life. His father died in 1985 while umpiring a local tennis match. Younger brother Guilherme suffered from cerebral palsy and Guga dedicated much of his career to him. He also helped to eradicate discrimination against the disabled in Brazil. Guga’s public embrace of his brother erased some of the stigma associated with people with mental disorders. Guilherme died last year. He was 28.

Guga brought a different spirit to the tennis court. Whereas Nadal looks severe, Guga was always somehow effervesecent, like champagne. He made people smile. In his spare time he was a surfer; he was laid back and exuded a certain gentleness. But at the same time he was an incredible competitor, popular enough to take attention off of Brazil’s famous soccer players. Guga is still more or less the most popular guy in Brazil.

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