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The Harry Potter of Tennis

Australian Open 2008

Fabrice SantoroGetty ImagesFabrice Santoro has been memorable in many of his previous 61 Grand Slam appearances.

Fabrice Santoro sets a new record for most Grand Slam tournaments played at the 2008 Australian Open. Beginning his final year on Tour, the creative Frenchman analyzes why some players like Sampras, Agassi and Safin fell victim to his spell yet others were impervious to his slice and dice wizardry.

Trickery and deception have always been an art to Fabrice Santoro.

Just ask the likes of Jimmy Connors, Boris Becker, Stefan Edberg, Thomas Muster, Andre Agassi, Roger Federer and Pete Sampras, who dubbed him 'The Magician' after one particularly grueling battle at Indian Wells in 2002.

Hundreds of players have fallen under the Frenchman's spell during a 20-season pro career on the ATP circuit. Some have mastered his game, but nobody has ever been able to imitate his unique style of play: from his ability to execute a bewildering array of angles and spins to changes of pace with his two-handed ground strokes and volleys.

Santoro has dined at the top table for so long that at the Australian Open in Melbourne he will set an Open Era record by appearing in his 62nd Grand Slam championship, breaking Agassi's mark set at the US Open in September 2006.
From his Grand Slam debut at Roland Garros in May 1989, when he lost to American David Wheaton 3-6, 0-6, 6-3, 6-4, 8-6 in the first round but captured the junior title, to his current standing of No. 36 in the South African Airways ATP Rankings, Santoro has been one of the most fascinating players for fans to watch and for his peers to compete against.

"When I started my professional career as a 16 year old all I wanted was to do my best. No matter what age you are: 16, 25 or 30 you hope that your game holds up and your desire to compete at the top level remains just as intense," says the amiable Frenchman, who turned 35 last December.

"I feel very lucky to be ranked so highly. It's incredible! I can't say I have done anything special: I haven't a different training regimen; I don't drink or smoke, and I eat well."

Of course, every career must end at some point. "The 2008 season will definitely be my last as a professional," he says. "I would like to stay healthy and compete at all the Grand Slam events, but apart from my current business interests I don't know what I want to do after retiring."

With the experience of more than 800 singles matches during his career, DEUCE asked Santoro about five players who found his game very hard to play against; five ATP stars that he has had trouble beating and the tactics he has employed against those players.


7-2 vs Marat Safin
"Every time I step on the court against Marat it is a great challenge. He is capable of anything with his immense power, great backhand and ability from the baseline. My game is very different, so as with any player I judge my tactics according to the weather conditions and court surface. As Marat is so tall I keep my groundstrokes low, meaning he has to bend and stretch a lot. When I have the chance I attack the net as it is difficult to out-rally him from the baseline."

3-3 vs Andre Agassi
"It was always a great honor playing Andre, even to be on the same court as him. I have a huge respect for him, his generous nature and Andre the person, on and off the court. He took the ball so early from inside the baseline and fed off pace. Therefore I was forced to take the net and attempt to keep the points as short as possible."

3-4 vs Pete Sampras
"Once again it was a tremendous challenge playing against the 14-time Grand Slam champion, who ranked No. 1 for six straight years. I have real respect for Pete. We had some terrific matches but to put myself in contention to beat Pete, I has to target his backhand - which was considered his weaker ground stroke - and I always had to serve and volley, matching his own game."

8-3 vs Sebastien Grosjean
"I always find it very difficult playing a fellow Frenchman, somebody you have practised with on the tour or as a team mate for in Davis Cup ties. But all the French players have my mobile number and a lot of them treat me as a father figure. Against a player as aggressive as Sebastien, who has a lot of power in his forehand and gives a player very little time, the key is to stay focused on your own game and not to get disheartened when things aren't going to plan. I attempt to hit well-placed serves and put him under pressure from the first ball."

5-2 vs Arnaud Clement
"Whenever you step on court with Arnaud, you know you will have to fight hard for every point to beat him. The French crowds respect that and he is held in high esteem. He moves very well and, like Agassi, he plays close to the baseline and is very consistent. I always attempt keep the ball low and pick my time to attack the net to close out a point, as he has a canny knack of passing you."


0-5 vs Nikolay Davydenko
“The problem I have had is that each match has been of a high standard and that circumstances have always turned against me. Nikolay has a very solid game, but his serve and forehand are not as powerful as many Top 10 players. I always try to stay aggressive, serve-volley and attempt to upset his rhythm. Hopefully I’ll have another chance in 2008 to snap the losing streak against him.”

2-8 vs Roger Federer
“For me it is always tough. Pretty much everybody has an inferior record against Roger, but I feel honored to have played against him as I rate Roger the greatest player of all time. When I have played Roger, I have always attempted to concentrate play on his backhand wing and use my slice approaches to open up the angles of the court. I am proud of my two wins.”

1-3 vs James Blake
“At the US Open in 2007 I was very close to snapping my losing streak against James. In fact I was five points away from victory and consider this match, the atmosphere and sportsmanship as one of my greatest memories as a player. James has a great forehand and is known for his excellent movement around the court, so I have always tried to be aggressive and take my chances when I have played him.”

0-6 vs Yevgeny Kafelnikov
“Yevgeny was very tough! I had no idea of how to play him; every weapon in his arsenal was better than mine. He’d strike forehand winners, backhand winners, volley and smash winners from all over the court and no matter how hard I tried to figure out his game I always came unstuck. I consider Yevgeny as one of the best competitors I played against during my career. I can’t offer any tactics against him – he was far too good.”

1-5 vs Tommy Robredo
“Tommy is very good from the baseline, which means that I always have to serve very well to set up a point and be in contention to beat him. I won our last meeting in Dubai last year as I was aggressive and chose the times to attack the net.”


FIRST MAJOR: 1989 Roland Garros
R128 – l. to D. Wheaton (USA) 3-6, 0-6, 6-3, 6-4, 8-6

25TH MAJOR: 1998 US Open
R128 – d. N. Lapentti (ECU) 4-6, 7-5, 6-3, 3-6, 7-6(4)
R64 – d. W. Arthurs (AUS) 7-6(3), 6-4, 6-3
R32 – l. to J. Bjorkman (SWE) 6-3, 6-1, 6-2

50TH MAJOR: 2005 Australian Open
R128 – l. to R. Federer (SUI) 6-1, 6-1, 6-2

BEST MAJOR PERFORMANCE: 2006 Australian Open
R128 – d. V. Spadea (USA) 3-6, 6-0, 6-2, 6-3
R64 – d. A. Pavel (ROU) 6-4, 6-1, 6-4
R32 – d. G. Gaudio (ARG) 6-3, 6-2, 5-7, 1-6, 6-4
R16 – d. D. Ferrer (ESP) 6-4, 7-5, 7-5
QF – l. to D. Nalbandian (ARG) 7-5, 6-0, 6-0

SURFACE STATISTICS (As of January 10, 2008)
Carpet: 45-54
Clay: 131-136
Grass: 32-26
Hard: 232-192

ALL-TIME ATP CAREER WINS: No. 41 (441-408)

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