PARIS -- No. 16 seed Sergi Bruguera isn't supposed to be here. Oh, sure, he's a wonderful clay-court player. And sure, he's a two-time French Open champion. But Bruguera himself said before the tournament started that he had no hope of winning the French Open.
And, yet, hope lives.
All but one of the seeds are gone from Roland Garros today, as the men's final of the French Open is about to be played. Only Bruguera, who has not won a tournament in three years, is left to represent the top-ranked men on Court Central. His opponent will be No. 66 Gustavo Kuerten, a 20-year-old from Brazil who has never won a tournament.
"I had no clay-court confidence before this tournament started," said Bruguera, 26. "In 1993, 1994, when I was winning here, I was playing a little more relaxed. Whatever it comes, it comes. I was going for shots, not thinking about anything. Everything was going without pressure. All the shots was going in. I play with happiness.
"Now, is different. I mean, I'm trying to come back. I'm very hungry to win. I'm very anxious to come back. I have so many problems. Is difficult mentally, approaching this game."
Across the net, Kuerten is everything Bruguera used to be. He comes from Brazil, from South America, a continent in love with red clay surfaces. He comes without baggage, too.
This is only his third career Grand Slam tournament. He made his Grand Slam debut here last year, playing his way in as a qualifier and lost in the first round.
In January, at the Australian Open, he won his first Grand Slam match by beating little-known Mikael Tillstrom before falling in the second round.
Now, he's a seed-killer. No. 5 Thomas Muster, No. 3 Yevgeny Kafelnikov and unseeded but 20th-ranked Andrei Medvedev have fallen in the face of his happy tennis.
Today, he finds himself in the biggest match of his career -- though every day seems to bring Kuerten the biggest match in his career -- and finally, he said, he is starting to feel a little pressure.
"My life, it is changing a little bit," he said. "More media come to talk, more fans come for autographs, but I try to practice the same and keep playing my game. But it is the finals of the French Open, I think I will be nervous. I think even Bruguera will be nervous. I know he won it twice, but everybody is a little more nervous in a final because it is the only match left to win."
Kuerten said he will go on the court today, look over the crowd and try his best.
"Hopefully, I can play a good game, try to win all the time," he said.
Across the net, Bruguera will try to do the same, hoping the final French Open seed doesn't fall.
"I have gathered my weapons here," Bruguera said. "I still am not playing my best tennis, but I have more weapons to make pain in the other player. I will try not to think about Kuerten. I'll just think about me, that my opponent will be an extraordinary player, but that I have my own weapons that I think can save the match."
The featured matches today at Roland Garros Stadium in Paris. The men's singles final will be shown on Channel 11 at 9 a.m.
Men's singles final
Sergi Bruguera (16), Spain, vs. Gustavo Kuerten, Brazil.
Women's doubles final
Gigi Fernandez, Aspen, Colo., and Natasha Zvereva (1), Belarus, vs. Mary Joe Fernandez, Key Biscayne, Fla., and Lisa Raymond (5), Wayne, Pa.
Pub Date: 6/08/97