PARIS The French Open's first day featured all the postmatch spectacle of a Grand Slam tournament's final day.
There were the grown men in yellow T-shirts and beige shorts scurrying onto center court with a wooden table to hold a trophy, the speech to the crowd by one of the players, and the dozens of photographers jockeying for position behind a baseline.
Except instead of a celebration of a new champion, as will happen in two weeks, all of Sunday's fuss was about saluting a departing one. Yes, they feted the match's loser: Gustavo Kuerten, the owner of three French Open titles and a former No. 1. He is now ranked outside the top 1,000 and is retiring at age 31 because of chronic hip injuries.
"This particular tournament is really like home for me," said Kuerten, who plans to play doubles in Paris but will never play singles again.
He was beaten 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 by 18th-seeded Paul-Henri Mathieu of France, hardly a surprising result on a day when surprises were few and far between.
There was one relatively big one, though: No. 16 Carlos Moya, the 1998 French Open champion but someone with a .500 record on clay this season, lost 7-6 (4), 6-2, 6-7 (1), 4-6, 6-3 to qualifier Eduardo Schwank of Argentina. Schwank never had played at a major and now boasts a 4-5 career record in tour-level matches.
Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic dropped his opening set before recovering to advance in four. No. 7-seeded James Blake beat Rainer Schuettler 6-4, 6-1, 7-6 (3) to make U.S. men 1-0 so far a year after they went 0-9 at the clay-court major.
"We all feel like, you know, last year was an aberration that should never happen again," Blake said.
Serena Williams, the only past French Open winner in the women's field, won in straight sets, as did 2007 runner-up Ana Ivanovic.
"I guess I do have pressure," Williams said, "but I don't put pressure on myself."
She ceded the first two games before winning 6-2, 6-1 in a drizzle against 61st-ranked Ashley Harkleroad, an American who'll appear in the August issue of Playboy.
"I'm just surprised she beat me to it," Williams said with a hearty laugh. "Darn."
Most of the afternoon's attention was focused on Court Philippe Chatrier, the venue where Kuerten came out of nowhere to win his first title of any sort in 1997. He followed that up with championships in 2000 and 2001, becoming wildly popular with French fans along the way because of his stylish play and "What me worry?" grin.
They remember not only his flair from the baseline, but also his shows of affection for them, most famously when he etched a heart in the clay after coming back from two sets down to beat Michael Russell in the fourth round in 2001.
And so it was that the locals threw their support behind the lanky Brazilian known as "Guga," instead of the Frenchman he was playing. Mathieu completely understood why his countrymen rooted the way they did.
"Even I would have shouted 'Guga!' if I had been able to do that," Mathieu said. "He's a legend of tennis. He is part of the history of Roland Garros."
Because of Kuerten's injury problems it hurts to sit or sleep, let alone scamper around a court he hadn't played at a major since 2005. He needed a massage from a trainer in the second set Sunday.
But he wanted to bid adieu to the sport at the site of his greatest moments, and the French tennis federation obliged by giving him a wild card into the field. After the match, Mathieu who won, let's remember was ignored, while Kuerten was treated to a standing ovation and presented with a glass trophy showing a cross-section of a clay court.
"Here, it is my life, my passion and my love," Kuerten told the audience in French. "It's great to have my family here, my coach. But more important was the love you gave me."
He provided reminders of the Kuerten of old: That neon blue-and-yellow outfit, for example nearly an exact replica of what he wore 11 years ago or the point on which he made a long run from the baseline up to the net, leaving a long skid mark, before depositing a volley winner. Or those trademark "Uuuuuuuh" exhales on most strokes.
"On a hard surface he would have been dangerous," Mathieu said, "but he cannot move very well anymore."
Clearly trying to enjoy his farewell, Kuerten would glance around the stands during changeovers, smiling between sips of water. When the opponents crossed paths after the final break, Kuerten pretended to use his racket to choke Mathieu as if to say, "Hey, pal, give me a break!" and his mock anger quickly dissolved into a warm smile.
Moments later, Kuerten saved a match point by ending a 12-stroke exchange with a cross-court forehand passing shot that brought fans to their feet. Even Mathieu applauded. It would be the last point Kuerten would win.
When the match ended, on a drop shot Kuerten pushed into the net, he sat on the sideline and covered his head with a towel. When the towel came off, his eyes were red and moist."Basically," he said later, "I'm lucky."
French open glance
Men's seeded losers: No. 16 Carlos Moya, No. 32 Janko Tipsarevic.
Women's seeded losers: No. 15 Nicole Vaidisova, No. 24 Virginie Razzano.
On Court today: No. 1 Roger Federer vs. Sam Querrey, No. 2 Rafael Nadal vs. Thomaz Bellucci, No. 3 Jelena Jankovic vs. Monica Niculescu, No. 8 Venus Williams vs. Tzipi Obziler.
Stat of the Day: 10-0. Serena Williams' edge in aces during her 6-2, 6-1 victory over Ashley Harkleroad.
TV: Tennis Channel, 5 a.m.-3 p.m.