Norman and Kuerten Close the Curtain on Men’s French Open

Published June 10th, 2000 - 02:00 GMT

Swedish third seed Magnus Norman pulverized Franco Squillari 6-1, 6-4, 6-3 in less than two hours on Friday to march with confident steps to the French Open final. 

He had enough of the jibes - though he's far too polite to say so. But in Sunday's French Open final, he can ram the doubts down his critics' throats and prove that he really is number one. 

To do so, he will have to lift his first Grand Slam singles crown and that means stopping Gustavo Kuerten bagging a second triumph in four years on the slow, red clay at Roland Garros. 

Picking the men’s champion is an eminently more difficult task. The Swede never looked in doubt as he sped through his six matches in double quick-time, droping just one set along the way. 

Norman has spent the past few months sitting atop the new-fangled ATP Champions Race - yet critics have queued up ever since to tell him he's really not in the same league as Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras. 

The moment of truth will come when the Swede steps out onto Center Court looking to mow down mop-haired Brazilian Kuerten in his first ever Grand Slam final. 

The third-seeded Norman has dominated his opponents to date, dropping just one set when Russian 12th seed Marat Safin pushed him to four sets in the quarter-finals. 

But he will come up against an opponent who never says die. 

That's because fifth seed Kuerten has managed to come back from the brink in both of his last encounters. 

He was on the ropes against Yevgeny Kafelnikov in the quarter-finals, trailing the Russian by two sets to one, 4-2 and 40-15 before starting his comeback. 

Kuerten staged a similar escape act three years ago against the same player in the same round on his way to winning what remains his only Grand Slam title. 

In Friday's semi-final he looked down and out once more against tough young Spaniard Juan Carlos Ferrero, trailing by two sets to one and 1-3 in the fourth set, before pulling off a Houdini act to pull the match out of the fire and win 7-5, 4-6, 2-6, 6-4, 6-3. 

As he admitted afterwards, "if you're not mentally prepared you're not gonna win it." 

Kuerten says having previously won the tournament will be a big advantage against Norman. 

"To win here that time has helped me to escape some bad situations and turn matches around. I'll draw on the experience of winning here before. I hope this will be an advantage for me," said the Brazilian, who insists he will be fighting fit come Sunday afternoon. 

"I'm very strong now - and I'll be stronger in the final,” – (Several Sources)

© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)

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