For a player of such longevity – one who played in a Grand Slam tournament across four different decades – my first memory of Fabrice Santoro was at Roland Garros in 2004. Unrivalled in their knowledge, the Eurosport commentators were clearly enjoying themselves, chuckling and gasping at the Frenchman’s array of shot-making and crowdpleasing.
That battle in the dimming Parisian light was – at that time – the longest singles match in the open era (since surpassed by Mahut and Isner’s escapades) and remains the longest at Roland Garros. An all-French affair, Santoro defeated another cult-favourite Arnaud Clement in over 6 1/2 hours (6–4, 6–3, 6–7(5), 3–6, 16–14). It was a mesmerising encounter, not just due to the drama that comes with such circumstances but Santoro was playing shots I had never seen and at times would never have imagined possible.
One of the few practictioners of a double handed forehand as well as backhand, Santoro’s talents didn’t translate to an especially high ranking (17) or title haul (6 on three different surfaces). A Junior French Open winner, he only reached the QF of a professional major once, in Australia in 2001.
His multi-talented game translated well to doubles however and Santoro won in Australian twice (with Llodra) and in mixed doubles he triumphed at Roland Garros (with Hantuchová).
It was nonetheless a fine career which boasts many records including the aforementioned marathon match in Paris and curiously a rampant victory count against the world’s very best.
With 40, Santoro has the most career wins over top ten opponents for a player who never reached the top ten. In singles play, Santoro defeated 18 players who were ranked world no. 1 at some time during their careers: Novak Djokovic, Jimmy Connors, Mats Wilander, Boris Becker, Stefan Edberg, Jim Courier, Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras, Thomas Muster, Marcelo Ríos, Gustavo Kuerten, Carlos Moyá, Pat Rafter, Juan Carlos Ferrero, Marat Safin, Lleyton Hewitt, Andy Roddick, and Roger Federer (against whom he has a 2–9 record).
Of these, Santoro’s record against Safin is one of the most infamous (7–2); Safin himself has said, “Being told I would play Santoro was being told I was to die.”
Some magical moments below (The video repeats itself at the 5 minute mark for some reason)
Picture courtesy of the Sydney Morning Herald