Stare Jablonki, Poland, June 7, 2008 - For the past seven days, Brazilian tennis legend Gustavo Kuerten has enjoyed the relaxing surroundings of a Polish resort while watching his girlfriend for the first time play on the international Beach Volleyball circuit at the US$350,000 GE Money Bank Mazury Open.
Kuerten, a three-time French Open champion and the only South American to end a year ranked No. 1 in the world, watched this week's SWATCH FIVB World Tour event with extreme interest as 20-year old Carolina Salgado, his girlfriend, competed with her sister (Maria Clara) in advancing to the women's semi-finals where the Brazilians captured the bronze medal.
"I really enjoyed this week here," said the 31-year-old Kuerten, who recently announced his retirement from tennis at the French Open due to a painful hip injury. "I have been at Carolina's matches in Brazil, but this is the first time I have watched her compete internationally. It was a great thrill, especially with her and her sister winning the bronze medal."
After winning four-straight matches to advance to the GE Money Bank Mazury Open semi-finals, Carolina and Maria Clara dropped their first match Saturday to Tyra Turner and Rachel Wacholder 21-19 and 21-16 in 46 minutes before bouncing back with a 21-19 and 22-20 bronze-medal win over Brazilian rivals Talita Antunes and Renata Ribeiro in another 46-minute match.
Known as "Guga," Kuerten saw similarities between Beach Volleyball and doubles in tennis. "There is a big difference due to the speed of the action with tennis, but the coordination between both players is very similar," said Kuerten, who won 20 singles and eight doubles titles during his career. "Both sports take a lot of athletic ability and a lot of training to compete at a very high level."
The "Beach Volleyball" atmosphere also caught Kuerten's attention. "The crowd was great today with a lot of music and entertainment," said Kuerten, who also won 34 Davis Cup matches for Brazil. "This has been a great week for Isabel and her family. And tonight, the Hotel Anders is also staging a Samba night."
The "Isabel" Kuerten mentioned is Carolina and Maria Clara's mother. Isabel's son Pedro was also competing in the GE Money Bank Mazury Open and advanced to Sunday's men's semi-finals with partner Harley Marques. Isabel won SWATCH FIVB World Tour medals in the 1990s with a title in 1994 in Miami Beach with Roseli Timm.
Kuerten plans on attending several other SWATCH FIVB World Tour stops along with spending time backpacking in Europe. "I am enjoying my time away from training," Kuerten added. "I plan on watching Carolina and her sister in Berlin and Paris. This has been a fun week and I am glad to be here to see the girls win a medal today."
Competing in their 47th SWATCH FIVB World Tour event, Carolina and Maria Clara have now won two bronze medals internationally. Their first was in 2005 at a South African event in Cape Town where they also defeated Talita and Renata for third place.
Downloadable free high-resolution pictures ("FIVB"):
Gustavo Kuerten and his girlfriend Carolina Salgado:
(Mauricio Kaye for FIVB)