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Monday, June 9, 1997

French Open They saved the
biggest surprise for last

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Associated Press Writer

PARIS (AP) - What was the wackiest thing that happened at this wackiest
of French Opens?

Take your choice:

-No. 1 Pete Sampras losing to a 65th-ranked Swede, Magnus Norman.

-The early exits of the next four men's seeds: Michael Chang, defending
champ Yevgeny Kafelnikov, Goran Ivanisevic and Thomas Muster.

-A circus-like second-round match in which perennial bad boy Jeff
Tarango mercilessly mimicked Muster, who obliged by refusing to shake
his hand.

-A semifinal draw with three unseeded men, including a 122nd-ranked

Let's not forget the women. For starters, Steffi Graf didn't make the
semis for the first time in 11 years.

And No. 9 seed Iva Majoli scored the biggest upset ever in the women's
event by defeating the overwhelming favorite, top-ranked Martina Hingis,
with stunning ease in the final.

But the wackiest surprise came last. Imagine someone predicting two
weeks ago that the final Sunday crowd would be chanting the word
``GUGA!'' - or that a samba band composed of overjoyed Brazilians would
be marching through the boutique-lined walkways of Roland Garros.

Two weeks ago, Gustavo Kuerten, the aforementioned ``Guga,'' was an
unknown 66th-ranked player who'd never won a tour event. In fact, he'd
never gotten past the quarterfinals.

But in a story for the record books, the 20-year-old Brazilian beat
three former champions on his way to becoming the lowest-ranked player
to win the French Open.

In Monday's new ATP Tour rankings, Kuerten moved from 66th in the world
to No. 15.

Sunday's straight-set dismantling of two-time champion Sergi Bruguera,
6-3, 6-4, 6-2, was only Kuerten's 49th professional match.

The Brazilian upstart played with such confidence - grinning on both
winning and losing points, skipping to the chair on changeovers - that
it seemed like nobody had told him this was a Grand Slam final.

Maybe that was the secret.

``I didn't think, `Wow, it's a final and I have to win,''' he said. ``I
just play like I practice.''

``I was pretty relaxed,'' he said in a typical understatement.

The match lasted 1 hour, 50 minutes, the fastest final since 1980, when
Bjorn Borg beat Vitas Gerulaitis in 1:46.

Kuerten dedicated the win to his father, who died of a heart attack soon
after umpiring a tennis match when Kuerten was 8 years old.

``He was the person I really loved and I miss him a lot,'' Kuerten said.
``This trophy and this tournament goes to him, and I'm sure he's really
happy right now.''

If the sight of the wiry Brazilian with a mop of unkempt hair, a
scraggly beard and brilliant blue-and-yellow tennis togs kissing the
trophy was a bit unusual for Roland Garros, so was the aftermath.

That was when a couple of dozen fans who'd watched the match on TV made
their way inside the gates, instruments in hand. They serenaded their
hero with a pulsating samba beat, punctuated by rhythmic chants of

Watching from a balcony, Kuerten laughed, signed autographs and
struggled to pop open a bottle of champagne. But he had to defer to his
coach on that one.

``I never won a title - that's why I don't know how to open champagne,''
he said later.

Bruguera, the lowest seed at No. 16, is one of the strongest clay-court
players of his generation and usually dominates his opponents from the
baseline. By reaching the final, he jumped from 19th to eighth on the
ATP computer.

But Sunday, Bruguera was helpless as Kuerten dictated the points, moving
him from side to side, stepping in to knock off clean winners. Kuerten's
biggest weapon was his forehand, which produced 26 winners.

``He played an outstanding match,'' Bruguera said. ``Maybe I wait for
him to give me the match, and he went for the match.''

Kuerten earned $695,448, nearly three times his career earnings of
$284,778. He said the money would go into his savings account.

``My life is perfect, even before this tournament,'' he said. ``I have
everything I need. I have a good house, and my mom's car that I use a little bit.''

College World Series Louisiana State on
a roll, looking for third straight title

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Associated Press Writer

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - Louisiana State will likely lose a good share of its
national baseball championship team to the professional leagues and

But one key member of the team will remain - coach Skip Bertman.

The Tigers won their second straight national title Saturday, despite
losing seven of their nine starters from last year's squad.

``I didn't think we had enough experience to do it again,'' Bertman
said. ``(But) if you can make them believers, they'll play.''

Brandon Larson said the reason for the repeat is Bertman.

``We came here with a job to do,'' said Larson, who was voted
outstanding player of the CWS after going 7-for-18 (.389) with six runs
scored, three homers and eight RBIs.

``It's a great feeling,'' Larson said. ``LSU is going to be here for
years to come. We're a dynasty!''

But Bertman has a long way to go before the Tigers match the streak of
Rod Dedeaux, who with Southern California amassed seven championships
from 1968 to 1978 - including a streak of five in a row.

LSU won its second straight Saturday, beating the Crimson Tide 13-6 with
help from Danny Higgins' solo homer and two-run single in the Tigers'
six-run first.

The Tigers have now won four baseball championships in the 1990s. They
also won their 11th straight women's track title Saturday.

LSU won the 1996 championship with a dramatic two-out,
bottom-of-the-ninth home run. This year's finish wasn't quite as
dramatic, but that didn't bother Bertman.

``This one is a little easier on my heart,'' Bertman said.

The Tigers' first batter, Danny Higgins - 1-for-9 in the series before
Saturday - started the scoring blitz with a solo homer. He followed with
a 2-run single later in the inning. LSU added three more runs in the
next inning to spoil the Crimson Tide's hopes of winning their first
NCAA baseball crown.

Starter Patrick Coogan, who also pitched last year's championship win,
struck out five of his first six batters.

``Alabama refused to give up, but our kids refused to lose,'' Bertman

But Alabama coach Jim Wells said the Crimson Tide have the potential to
make it to the finals again next year.

``This isn't a deal where we just came here this year and reached this
point,'' Wells said. ``I feel like we can get back here next year. We have to put ourselves in this situation again.''

RAC--Belmont Touch Gold's trainer hoping
to cross paths again with Silver Charm

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AP Sports Writer

NEW YORK (AP) - Beginning in 1982, Woody Stephens sent out five straight
Belmont Stakes winners from barn No. 3 at Belmont Park, and that's where
trainer David Hofmans stood Sunday morning.

A day earlier, his horse, Touch Gold, became the sixth Belmont winner to
begin his day at that address, stopping Silver Charm's attempt to become
the 12th Triple Crown winner in the bargain.

``I guess some of that Belmont stuff rubbed off on me,'' Hofmans said.

Down the road a piece, trainer Bob Baffert had Silver Charm stabled in
Nick Zito's old barn No. 9, home to four Belmont runners-up, but never a

Brother Bill Baffert was taken aback by the historical anomaly.

``Brother, we got hosed,'' he protested loudly, but in the spirit of fun
that pervaded the Silver Charm camp since the Bafferts first pitched
their tents in Kentucky. ``It wasn't Woody, it was the barn. All we got
was seconds.''

Silver Charm finished the Triple Crown with two firsts and a second,
becoming the 13th horse to win the first two and fail in the third. It's
called a near-miss, and there have been few that were nearer.

Silver Charm was beaten by only three-quarters of a length by Touch
Gold, who sneaked up on him from the outside, keeping third-place Free
House in between them. Silver Charm never saw him coming.

The last near-miss belonged to Sunday Silence, beaten by Easy Goer by
eight lengths in the Belmont. Pleasant Colony was more than a dozen
lengths off the pace in his attempt in 1981, and two years earlier,
Spectacular Bid lost the Belmont by eight lengths after winning the
first two. Only Pensive, a half-length back of Bounding Home in 1944,
came closer.

The three Triple Crown races were decided by a total of one length.
Silver Charm beat Captain Bodgit in the Derby on May 3 by a head, then
captured the Preakness two weeks later by a head over Free House. Free
House was a length back in third in the Belmont and 3½ back in third in
the Derby.

``I'd like to run against those two horses - Silver Charm and Free House
- again,'' Hofmans said. ``I think there is some interest. We've got a
little thing rolling here, and I think we should keep it going.''

Some 70,682 filled the stands at Belmont on Saturday, the third largest
crowd in the race's history. Not since 64,959 watched Easy Goer stop
Sunday Silence in '89 has this historic track seen anything like it.

``I think these three horses should stay together,'' Hofmans said, who
added he would talk to Baffert and Free House's trainer, Paco Gonzalez,
about it when they all got back to home base in California. ``I'm sure
they'd like to run against him again.''

Touch Gold missed the Derby, but finished a strong fourth in the
Preakness after falling on his nose at the start and getting pinched off
at least twice in the homestretch.

``I know people say we could have won the Preakness,'' Hofmans said. ``I
think Touch Gold is one of the best 3-year-olds racing now, but those
other two are right there. The other horses are pretty equal. That's why
we have to run against each other again.''

Hofmans said he would point Touch Gold toward the Travers in August at
Saratoga. Touch Gold and Free House are going home to California, while
Baffert said he would ship Silver Charm to Churchill Downs in Louisville
to rest for a while.

``Next time, we'll be coming from behind with Free House between us,''
Baffert said. ``Now, Touch Gold becomes the target.''

As for his horse's immediate racing future, Baffert said, ``We'll sit
down and play it by ear. But you know wherever one of these horses shows
up, they'll all be there. I just need to give Silver Charm some time. I
don't want to run him into the ground.''

Baffert credited Hofmans' strategy and Chris McCarron's ride aboard
Touch Gold with stopping Silver Charm.

``McCarron made the winning move by going to the outside,'' Baffert
said. ``If he goes inside and hooks up with my horse, he never gets by.
But there is no way to change the outcome, so I can't worry about it. My
horse showed up. He ran his race, so I'm happy.''

In the meantime, Baffert is hooked on the Triple Crown in only his
second try at it, and it looks like he'll be back.

``I've made a lot of friends,'' Baffert said. ``I hope somebody will
send me some of these ready-made runners like Touch Gold. Hopefully
there's a 2-year-old out there with my name on it.''

State and Regional Sports Pages--San Angelo Standard-Times

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