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Artistic Kuerten Advances

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Yevgeny Kafelnikov took a look at Gustavo Kuerten’s backhand, not his on-court drawing, and compared him to a Grand Slam champion of the art world.

The sublime backhand and the overall package--Kuerten beat Kafelnikov, 6-1, 3-6, 7-6 (3), 6-4, in the French Open quarterfinals Tuesday--had the Russian reaching for superlatives.

“It’s difficult playing behind with a player like Gustavo all the time,” said Kafelnikov, who won here in 1996. “You give him freedom, he’s like Picasso. He’s playing backhand, up the line, backhand cross-court, doing everything. I was quite pleased that I fought really hard back.”

Said Kuerten, smiling: “He never saw me design. Maybe on the court I can do some magic like the other day against [Michael] Russell. When I get the paper in front of me, it’s probably [like] qualifier.”

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The top-seeded Kuerten, the defending champion, had drawn a heart on the court Sunday to acknowledge the crowd after surviving a match point and five-set drama against Russell, an American qualifier, in the fourth round.

He got past Kafelnikov in 2 hours 32 minutes, and youngster Juan Carlos Ferrero of Spain will be his semifinal opponent in a rematch of last year, when Kuerten won in five sets despite back problems.

The fourth-seeded Ferrero was dominating against No. 6 Lleyton Hewitt of Australia, winning their quarterfinal, 6-4, 6-2, 6-1. Ferrero is a year older, at 21, more experienced and has a better serve. He had five aces and only one double fault against Hewitt and never had his serve broken after the first set.

“I think he was a little bit tired because the other day he was pretty tough against [Guillermo] Canas,” Ferrero said. “Today I played very well with my forehand, and I moved him all the time. I expected a little bit more of him, but I played good.”

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Hewitt was subdued, an uncommon state for him in a Grand Slam event, or any tournament, really.

“The guy just hit me off the court,” he said. “He played great. He didn’t give me too many opportunities to get pumped up out there. I definitely didn’t feel 100%, and I didn’t feel into the match like I wish I could have been.”

Ferrero won’t play Kuerten until Friday, so he is planning on seeing Paris today, going on a boat cruise on the Seine and checking out an amusement park. Considering the tough matches he has had against Kuerten--there was a five-set final in Rome this year that Ferrero won--taking it easy might be a good idea.

“It’s going to be a big battle, for sure,” Kuerten said. “We are both playing excellent, especially at this stage. Got to play close to perfection to win.”

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Today’s Featured Matches

* Roger Federer, Switzerland vs. Alex Corretja, Spain (13)

* Sebastien Grosjean, France (10) vs. Andre Agassi (3)

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