After Yokohama in Japan, it was the turn of Florianopolis to host the Brazilian stage of the "Rendez-vous à Roland-Garros, in partnership with Longines" event. If Florianopolis sounds familiar, it’s because the town produced the one and only Gustavo Kuerten, who describes it as his “peaceful place”. And the three-time Roland-Garros champion was on hand to deliver the official entries for the final phase of the “Rendez-vous” tournament in Paris to the two young Brazilians who emerged victorious from the qualifying competition.
"Rendez-vous à Roland-Garros": "Guga" oversees Brazilian victories
Under the watchful eye of Gustavo Kuerten, who attended the two finals and handed out the trophies to the winners of this national tournament that brought together all of the players who had succeeded in qualifying from the regional stage (25 tournaments were divided into five regional circuits), second seed Nathalia Gasparin triumphed in the girls’ competition.
"The Brazilian Sharapova"
Nicknamed "the Brazilian Sharapova", she secured a resounding victory over Vitoria Okuyama – her training partner in Curitiba and the No.1 seed – in the final (6/0 6/4). Aside from her impressive forehand and effective baseline game, Gasparin also possesses a strong character, which helped her to extricate herself from a rather tricky situation in her semi-final against the plucky Marina Figueiredo, whom she eventually overcame 7/6 2/6 7/6 after three and a half hours of play.
“I was very focused right from the start of the final – really determined,” said Gasparin. “I played pretty well in the first set; I hardly missed anything. The second set was more difficult, but I managed to keep my concentration till the end and I’m happy with the win. It’s a unique opportunity. In Paris, I’m going to try to give 100 per cent like I did here, so that I have a chance of winning. I’ve never been and I’m really looking forward to discovering the city.”
Joao Ferreira, like Gabriel Decamps and Rafael Wagner?
In the boys’ tournament, the glory went to the third-seeded 16-year-old, Joao Ferreira. Having defeated the favourite and top seed, Matheus Pucinelli, in the semi-final, Hugo Daibert’s apprentice – Ferreira shares the coach with Bruno Soares, the two-time Grand Slam doubles champion – he confirmed his fine form in the final by seeing off the challenge of Gilbert Soares Klier, seed No.2. In a match that swung back and forth, and was punctuated by an injury to Soares Klier (to his Achilles tendon, when he was 4-3 up in the first set), Ferreira kept his composure to come back from 6-3 down in the first tiebreak, winning five points in a row to take the opening set.
Despite losing the second in comprehensive fashion (0/6) to an opponent who had clearly decided he had nothing to lose and was landing practically every shot he attempted, Ferreira dug deep and clinched the third set to win by a score of 7/6(6) 0/6 6/2. After obtaining his official entry for Paris from Kuerten during the trophy presentation, Ferreira also received a congratulatory message from Bruno Soares via social media. Such high-profile backing should inspire the young Brazilian in Paris as he attempts to succeed his compatriots, Gabriel Decamps and Rafael Wagner, who earned a wildcard for the Junior French Open at the final phase of the tournament last year and the year before.
Kuerten: "Roland-Garros has become a veritable symbol of tennis for the Brazilian people"
Extremely involved in the development of tennis, Kuerten knew that he could not miss this event, especially as it was taking place in the town of his birth. The former world No.1 was keen to pass on some advice and encouragement to the participants. “Roland-Garros has become a veritable symbol of tennis for the Brazilian people. Giving young players hope and offering them the chance to enjoy these kinds of tennis experiences is really nice.”
The three-time French Open winner continued: “From one moment to the next, they’re going to go from youth competitions to the professional circuit, where they’ll have to face tougher, more prepared players. It’s a period in which they’ll be full of doubt, they’ll mature, and the demands on them will be very high. For these young players, tournaments like this one are very important, because their day-to-day situation is difficult. The Roland-Garros dream has become a symbol – it stimulates them and gives them more energy to deal with everyday life. They need that to survive, to get through training on a day-to-day basis and to maintain their efforts, because that age – between 15 and 18 – is difficult.”
Read more: Gustavo Kuerten: "My first day at Roland-Garros had a huge impact on my life. After that, I knew what to dream of"
The Brazilian icon also made a point of comforting the runner-up in the boys’ final and congratulating him on his brave display. “I loved Gilbert’s attitude out on the court today. You got hurt in the first set and you failed to convert set points, but despite that, in the second and third sets you were still in it, and you hung in there even though everyone could see that you were struggling to run, but you knew that people were counting on you. That’s part of the ups and downs of the life of a professional player, I can assure you, and you reacted really well. I think that even if, right now, you’re disappointed not be going to Paris, you’ll learn a lot from this match, which will serve you well in the future.”