HONG KONG (CNN) -- He's a three-time former champion and darling of the Roland Garros crowd, but this week Gustavo "Guga" Kuerten took to the clay in Paris for the final time.
Tennis great Gustavo Kuerten will retire after his appearance at this year's French Open.
He won the French Open as a virtual unknown in 1997, repeating his triumph in 2000 and 2001. The former world number one has suffered injuries and heartache during his 13-year career on the tour, and will be hanging up his racket after this event.
Prior to going out in the first round to Paul-Henri Mathieu he told CNN about his Parisian love affair.
CNN: How does it feel to be going into the tournament you've won three times as the World number 1,140, and it being the last tournament you'll ever play?
GK: Actually the ranking doesn't matter for me. When I decided to take this farewell tour I wasn't looking for ranking points. I wanted to have the feelings that I had in the most special places for me, to enjoy them one last time, to see the people and the public.
Today it's still very hard for me to think that in a week, five days, it will be over. I try not to think about it too much. I have worked so hard the past three weeks to be in good shape to play at least one good match, that my mind is totally focused on the tournament, as if I were still competing, like in the past years.
I arrived in Paris, and like every year I immediately went to Roland Garros and practiced on center court. It feels like it is a normal year, but there's something different.
CNN: What does the French Open mean to you?
GK: It means everything. It is here that everything happened to me. I have a love relationship with this tournament, since the first time I came here and over the years I think everything came together, the tournament, the fans and I, all having this love affair.
I have so much respect for the tournament. For me it is the most important tournament in the world.
All these years on the tour, I always worked out my schedule towards Roland Garros.
CNN: What are your favorite memories of Roland Garros?
GK: It is very hard to pick just one, because everywhere I go here I have memories, even going back to the junior years. If I had to pick one match though, it would be the one against Michael Russell, in the 4th round in 2001, when I drew the heart [on the court] for the first time. It was just an amazing feeling. After I won the match I felt like I was floating, a feeling that is very, very hard to find.
CNN: How does the event compare to the other Grand Slam tournaments? What makes it unique?
GK: For me I can't even compare. Everybody asked me over the years if I wanted to win Wimbledon, the U.S. Open or Australian Open... Of course you want to win, but I would rather have won even more Roland Garros than these other Grand Slams.
I think it is a combination of it being in Paris, being played on clay, the people and the courts. Even the clay in Roland Garros I think is unique; it is different from any other clay court in the world.
CNN: What do the crowds in Paris mean to you? Will you draw another heart in the clay when you finally leave the court?
GK: I am not a guy who plans these things ahead. I like things to come naturally. Even when I drew the heart, it was something spontaneous and it ended up being something very special, that showed all the love I have for the tournament and the crowd.
I know they are expecting me to speak some French, so I am trying to practice a little this week, but I don't really know... Let's see how it goes.
CNN: What else would you have like to have achieved in tennis?
GK: I couldn't ask for anything else. I have achieved much more than I could ever expect. Even in my wildest dreams I couldn't imagine that I would win Roland Garros three times, win the Masters Cup and become the number one tennis player in the world...
CNN: You're a national hero in Brazil. How does it feel to go back home?
GK: I love being in Brazil. Many people asked me why I didn't buy a house in Monaco, or somewhere else, but I never wanted to live outside Brazil.
I come from an island, a small city in the south of Brazil and people are used to seeing me there. Of course when I go to bigger cities, I stop for autographs, pictures, sometimes there is a crowd, but it's OK, it's satisfying. In the beginning I didn't really feel like an idol, but I learnt to deal with it and I feel proud to be an example and that people feel inspired by me.
CNN: What will you miss most from giving up tennis?
GK: Ah, the competition for sure... I am a very competitive guy. The one thing I won't miss though is all the traveling.
CNN: What happens when the tennis stops?
GK: First I want to take a couple of months off, just to relax, surf and think what I want to do.
But I definitely want to be involved with tennis, help develop tennis in Brazil and do more work for my institute, the Instituto Guga Kuerten. (www.igk.org.br/)
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