On Sunday, Fabrice “the Magician” Santoro played what he says is the last professional tennis match of his 20-year career, losing to James Blake 6-4, 6-3 in the first round of the Paris Masters. After the match, Blake and Santoro exchanged “jerseys” and Santoro took his own kind of victory lap around the Bercy arena.
“Thank you for supporting me all these years, forcing me to push myself,” Santoro told his home crowd. “That way I could get the most of my passion. In principle, at the age of nearly 37, I should not be on the centre court at Bercy. So I am happy to pass the mantle on to youth.” (via the UKAP)
With all the publicity around Andre Agassi’s recent admission that he hates/hated tennis with a deep, dark passion, it’s nice to hear Fabrice talk about the joy tennis has brought him (via tennis.com):
“… thirty years devoted to tennis. It’s also thirty years that have passed very quickly. When you’re passionate, you don’t calculate the number of hours spent training, traveling, fighting on court. Everything comes naturally. Like today, I’ve always given the maximum.”
“All aspects of my career will be missed: the adrenaline, the contact with the press, the public and the uncertainty of the profession… it must be 525 tournaments [I've played]. And I have lost 519 times, it’s a lot (smiles).”
“Today, I’m content that all this stops and I can start a new life, a normal life.”
Blake – who won the first five-set match of his career against Santoro at the 2007 US Open (he had been 0-9 in five-setters before this) – praised Fabrice after Sunday’s match:
“He’s had a great career. It’s unbelievable how much success he’s had in singles and doubles and how well liked he is by his competitors, which I think says a lot about a person, when they do retire, how respected they are by the rest of the tour.”
The 36-year-old Frenchman, famous for his trick shots, spins and a mischievous gap-toothed grin, was not well-liked (at least on the court) by fellow post-Bercy retiree Marat Safin. Safin complained about Santoro’s longevity at this year’s French Open: “I regret he (Santoro) didn’t retire earlier… He destroyed a couple of tournaments in my life, and thanks to him, I couldn’t achieve some tournaments. So, he should have retired many years ago.”
The 2001 French Open was one of those tournaments:
Marat’s also been quoted as saying: “Being told I would play Santoro was being told I was to die.” The Frenchman owns their head-to-head 7-2.
Unlike Safin, Santoro never made the Big Time in singles (his best result at a Major was the quarterfinals of the Australian Open in 2006), but he’s accomplished quite a bit in his long career:
- Santoro has defeated 17 players who were ranked World No. 1 at some time during their careers (Jimmy Connors, Mats Wilander, Boris Becker, Stefan Edberg, Jim Courier, Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras, Thomas Muster, Marcelo Ríos, Gustavo Kuerten, Carlos Moyà, Pat Rafter, Juan Carlos Ferrero, Marat Safin, Lleyton Hewitt, Andy Roddick and Roger Federer). (via Wikipedia)
- Santoro’s won 6 ATP tour singles titles and 24 doubles titles. In doubles, he’s made the finals of every Major except the US Open, winning the Australian Open twice with partner Michael Llodra.
- Santoro won the longest singles match in the open era. At the 2004 French Open, he beat fellow Frenchman Arnaud Clément in a 6 hour, 33 minute first round match 6–4, 6–3, 6–7(5), 3–6, 16–14.
- With his participation in the 2008 Australian Open, Santoro broke Andre Agassi’s record in Major appearances over his career with a total of 62 tournaments played (Agassi’s record was 61). He made his 69th appearance at the 2009 US Open.
Given his impressive Major streak, the Magician may have one more trick up his sleeve – though he says he considers Sunday’s match his last, he may play the 2010 Australian Open. Having turned pro in 1989, doing so would make him the first player to participate in Majors spanning four different decades. A bientôt, Fabrice! See you Down Under.
So let’s bring out some Santoro highlights, shall we?
A classic point against Roger Federer:
Huh, this “tweener” looks familiar:
Defense? Santoro invented defense, son.
Spadea, Santoro definitely ain’t afraid of ya’
“You can’t out-trick the Magician.” But you can make Nalbandian even more hot and bothered than he already is.
Pete Sampras nicknamed Santoro “The Magician.” Here’s Pete getting sawed in half at the 1995 Rome Masters: