Gustavo Kuerten, ace of heart(s)
“What would you do for a living if you weren’t a tennis player?” 2003 started off weirdly. Gustavo Kuerten, who was back in the ATP Top 20 after a hip surgery that made him fall so down in the rankings that he almost considered retiring, took a while to think about the question asked by US magazine Tennis Week. “I would be a schoolteacher. I like working with kids.” It was no surprise. Three years earlier, on 17 August 2000, he founded Instituto Guga Kuerten in Brazil. The institute promotes social inclusion for children, teenagers and disabled people through sporting, educational, and social actions, while building tennis courts and hosting charity tournaments. But why did he open it? Well, the three-time French Open winner’s dad died of a heart attack while refereeing a junior match when Guga was 8. He grew up alone with his mother and his two brothers, the youngest of which, Guilherme, was mentally and physically disabled due to delivery complications.
In 2008, a year after Guilherme died at the age of 28, Gustavo said in French newspaper Le Monde: “I think we were lucky to spend so much time with him. He was always with us and was the link between the family members. He is one of the reasons why we are so close to one another today. I had a foot in two opposite worlds –the glamorous tennis circuit, and my brother’s life. He has helped me see life from a simpler perspective.” When Kuerten was a child, his mother was the head of a local association which helped disabled children; as for his brother Guilherme, he was just happy to be able to use a fork. It is the reason why as a professional player, he would often donate $200 to associations that helped disabled kids for every match he won. While most tennis stars were into luxury cars and private jets, he would still drive his old motorcycle and spend his free time surfing with his childhood buddies at home, in Florianópolis, the capital of the Santa Carina state (Brazil). Kuerten now spends his life helping about 400 children every year. In 2022, Instituto Guga Kuerten had supported 108,000 people for 23 years through two programmes –Life Champions and Special Actions– as well as a support fund for social aid. Guga cannot play tennis anymore due to hip pains; he is now a wheelchair tennis global ambassador. We saw him playing several times on the Tous en Fauteuil days hosted every year in Roland-Garros. In 2016, for instance, he was the sponsor of the event and played a bit with ex-singles and doubles World No. 1 Michaël Jeremiasz. Guga always does things from the bottom of his heart.