-- After winning his third French Open in 2001, Gustavo Kuerten etched a heart in the red clay of Roland Garros's center court.
On Saturday, he broke one, dispatching the game's most elegant player and the tournament's top seed, Roger Federer, 6-4, 6-4, 6-4.
No player had been in better form entering the tournament than Federer, the world's No. 1 player, whose unease on clay appeared to have been remedied. But against Kuerten, a master of the capricious, clay-court surface, Federer lost both his footing and confidence. And in a brisk 2 hours 3 minutes, Kuerten reduced the Swiss tennis ace to a mere journeyman.
The turn of events leaves this French Open without either of its No. 1 seeds (Justine Henin-Hardenne having lost in the second round), without either defending champion (Henin-Hardenne on the women's side; Juan Carlos Ferrero, a second-round casualty, on the men's) and without any of the 10 American men who entered.
The upshot is a wide-open path to one of tennis's four major titles, particularly for players who had been in Federer's half of the draw.
The top seed among them is Argentine David Nalbandian (No. 8), who is on track to meet Kuerten, the No. 28 seed, in the quarterfinals.
The top two seeds in the other half of the draw are Guillermo Coria of Argentina (No. 3 seed) and Carlos Moya of Spain (No. 5), who also could meet in the quarterfinals.
For Federer, it was an unfortunate stroke of luck to draw Kuerten as his third-round opponent.
The world's top-ranked player in 2000, Kuerten hasn't been the same since undergoing surgery on his right hip in 2002. But there is no place the Brazilian feels more at home than here on the red clay of Roland Garros, where he became an overnight sensation in winning the French Open as an unseeded player in 1997 and reclaimed the title in 2000 and 2001.
"It's something special for sure," Kuerten said of his feelings toward Roland Garros, where French tennis fans claim him as one of their own, chanting his nickname, "Guga!" "Guga!" with the enthusiasm of Brazilian soccer fans.
Kuerten responded Saturday with a cunning game plan and masterful play to advance to the tournament's round of 16 for the sixth consecutive time.
If Kuerten's game was elevated by the setting, Federer's game suffered for it.
"The Chatrier court is really, really big, and I just haven't had enough play on it," a dejected Federer said afterward. "For me, it's not the surface [that's a problem]; it's rather maybe the court."
Federer had barely been tested by his first two opponents in the tournament, breezing to straight-set victories without breaking much of a sweat. Saturday against Kuerten, nothing was right.
He was unhappy with the tension of his rackets' strings. He couldn't read Kuerten's deceptive serves and waffled between stepping up to attack and retreating to simply get the ball in play. Once hailed as the Baryshnikov of tennis for his grace on court, Federer was awkward and off balance much of the match. He mis-timed his slides across the dry, dusty surface and almost fell twice.
"This was the problem," Federer said. "I lost a little bit of confidence in my footwork."
But the bigger problem, as Federer conceded, was Kuerten's superior play. "I think my game today had a lot to do with his game," Federer said. "Obviously, usually I can control these kind of matches, but today I couldn't. That's a credit to him."
The first set open with three service breaks, two by Federer.
Kuerten eventually found the rhythm he was looking for in the mysterious service motion; Federer did not. Still, there was no sign that Federer was rattled after losing the first set, 6-4.
"I felt I had a chance to win the match," Federer said. "Even at 6-4, 6-4, 5-4, I still felt I could win this match."
Three games into the second set, Kuerten broke Federer again. After that, he was in control, dictating the tempo by mixing up the pace and placement of each ball he hit.
Federer's best chance to get back in the match came in the second game of the third set, but Kuerten saved the break point with a crisp volley to the open court. He held serve by luring Federer to the net again and ripping a court-court passing shot.
The French Open is Kuerten's first tournament following a one-month break to rest his surgically repaired knee, which he re-injured during a match in Barcelona. He is taking anti-inflammatories for the pain and entered Saturday's match knowing that his only chance against Federer was to end it in straight sets before his lack of conditioning began to show.
Few would have given him any chance against Federer -- in three sets or five -- considering how well the Swiss ace had been playing.
Said Kuerten, who faces Spain's Feliciano Lopez on Monday: "For me, I should be drawing hearts all the time I step out on the court by the way this tournament has been treating me."