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The Magician's Final Trick


Fabrice Santoro© Ella LingFrenchman Fabrice Santoro, who turned professional in 1989, compiled a 470-443 career singles record and reached a career-high No. 17 on 6 August 2001.

Frenchman Fabrice Santoro, who played his final ATP World Tour tournament at the BNP Paribas Masters in November, reflects on his battles with a cavalcade of No. 1s during his remarkable career.  In a two-part series, Santoro talks about each of the 20 No. 1s he played.

In Part II of Fabrice Santoro's reflections on playing 20 of the 24 players to hold the No. 1 South African Airways ATP Ranking, the recently retired Frenchman remembers playing a 40-year-old Jimmy Connors, and taking a beat-down from Rafael Nadal.

Santoro crafted 470 singles wins during his career and finished inside the Top 100 18 straight years, just one year shy of Andre Agassi's record.  And he had some very impressive head-to-head records against several of the players to rank No. 1, including Sampras (3-4), Agassi (3-3) and Safin (7-2).

Read Introduction and Part I

"He was an amazing player and I remember when he came to Vienna it was like the Pope coming there."

Santoro vs. Jimmy Connors
Head-to-head: 1-0

Most Memorable Match: I remember this one because it was in Vienna in 1992 and Connors was 40.  He was the oldest player on the tour, and he was playing unbelievable tennis, still.  It was one of the last matches of his career and I was very surprised the way he was playing.  He had two match points I think in the second set and I just won the match, not because I was better, only because he was tired at the end.  It was a great honour for me to play against him before he stopped and I was very lucky to win.

Tactics: His game is pretty good for mine.  The only thing is he was playing very well, he was playing very close to the lines; he was very precise with his footwork.  He has one record forever in tennis, the number of tournaments he won, 109 I think.  He was an amazing player and I remember when he came to Vienna it was like the Pope coming there.  Everybody was waiting for him and it was huge for the tournament and the city.

Santoro vs. Ivan Lendl
Head-to-head: 0-1

Santoro Comment/Most Memorable Match: It’s a surprise for me to see that score in the record books as 6-2, 6-3 for our only match (Nice semi-finals, 1993) because in my mind I lost 6-2, 6-0.  I remember that he kicked my a..  He was just too powerful for me.  He was playing very strong already in 1993 and Lendl was a great champion; he was working so hard.  He was very professional on every single part of his job and on the court I was feeling very, very small.

Tactics: My game was pretty slow when I started on the tour; later I became more aggressive.  Because my game was pretty slow Lendl had a lot of time to set his game against me, to build his point and I was always late.

"When someone was playing slow it was perfect for me."

Santoro vs. Mats Wilander
Head-to-head: 1-0

Most Memorable Match: I remember our one match because it was in the French Open, my first match on the centre court of Roland Garros.  It was 1991, the second round, and when I came on the court, I said "Okay, I think I have no chance.  Because he won in 1982, '85, '88, he's going to win in 1991; it's every three years."  But actually, when I started the match I quickly saw that he was not as good as in the past.  He was close to the end (of his career) and he was not playing that well.  So I won pretty easily, but it was not a good win for me because I was feeling a little bit uncomfortable on the court.  He was very far from his best level.

Tactics: He was playing pretty slow at this period so I had plenty of time to make him run and, because I wasn't missing in the beginning of my career, when someone was playing slow it was perfect for me.

EdbergSantoro vs. Stefan Edberg
Head-to-head: 1-3

Most Memorable Match: I have huge respect for him. I remember when I came on the tour, when I was a kid of 17, he was so nice with me since the first day I walked into this world.  I practised with him a couple of times.  He was so fair on the court and his technique and his game were so clear.  His backhand was wonderful, the way he was moving at the net.  The way he was moving at the net was just amazing.  His backhand volley was one of the best ever.  [Santoro's lone victory over Edberg was a 6-3, 6-1 win on clay in Monte-Carlo in 1995.]

Tactics: Because we played in Monte-Carlo and it was raining for, like, two days before, the court was very, very slow.  It was perfect for my game and pretty bad for his.

"We both don't like to lose."

Santoro vs. Gustavo Kuerten
Head-to-head: 1-1

Most Memorable Match: This is a bit like Rafter: We only played twice, back-to-back in 1997.  I beat him in Prague, lost in Montreal.  In Prague it was a good win for me on clay, especially at this period because he won the French Open three weeks later.  I remember Guga because he was a charismatic player and he won the French three times. He became No. 1.  He had a big serve, big backhand, and one of the guys that the crowd loved, especially in Paris.

Tactics: He didn't like my slice.  Because he was tall he was very comfortable on the high balls, forehand and backhand, but not on the low balls.

SantoroSantoro vs. Lleyton Hewitt
Head-to-head: 2-2

Most Memorable Match: Our last match in Toronto (in 2004) was the most memorable because it was the second match of the day for me.  I had beaten Ljubicic in the morning and I had to play Lleyton that night, so it was a big day for me to beat two Top 10s the same day.

Tactics: His game fits well with mine.  I like to play Lleyton and it's always a big fight because he fights on every point, I would say like me.  We both don't like to lose.  I liked to play him because he's one of the best competitors, and also when you attack him he's a very good counter-puncher.  He likes it when you attack him, he's very good, but he doesn't like it a lot when he has to attack.

I slow down the game.  I let him come to me because he is very dangerous when you are attacking.

Santoro vs. Juan Carlos Ferrero
Head-to-head: 2-6

Most Memorable Match: We've played quite a lot of tough matches, but I remember winning 7-5 in the fifth at the Australian Open (2003).  I remember the one in Paris (in 2000) 7-5 in the third.  But my four-set win in Australia this year is very big.  I travelled there to play my last Australian Open.  I went there with my best friend and he was pushing me hard during the match, it was a big atmosphere in a kind of night session on an outside court.  It was a good atmosphere and I was cramping at the end.  And I played my last Grand Slam match against him at this year's US Open.

Tactics: He's the kind of guy I never like to play because he's good on both sides.  I loved to play the guys when they have one or two big shots, but I don't like playing guys like Juan Carlos, who is as dangerous on the forehand as he is on the backhand.

"Okay, if you play Rafa it's a nightmare for me. Because at my age, playing a guy who moves so well, so powerful, I have very little chance of beating him."

Santoro vs. Andy Roddick
Head-to-head: 1-4

Most Memorable Match: I would pick out the one when I beat him in Lyon for sure because it's the only time I beat him and beating Andy on indoor carpet in France is pretty big for me – and I broke him in the third set!

Tactics: I'm one of the best returners on the tour, but it's almost impossible for me to break him because he serves so well, first and second serve.  From the baseline he has improved a lot in the past two years.  He moves very well now and he has improved his backhand a lot.  In the last three matches we played I broke him only once.  It says a lot.

Federer, SantoroSantoro vs. Roger Federer
Head-to-head: 2-9

Santoro Comment/Most Memorable Match: I like to be on the other side of the net against Roger, because even though I know almost for sure that I'm going to lose the match, we have a good relationship outside the court.  In my opinion he's the best player ever.  When you play tennis, playing Federer is kind of a dream because you can see he does everything you would love to do on the court.  I have good memories of our night match at the US Open in 2005 [Federer won 7-5, 7-5, 7-6(2)].

Tactics: I just try to put pressure on him and to keep close to him on the scoreboard, but it's tough.

Santoro vs. Rafael Nadal
Head-to-head: 0-1

Most Memorable Match: I don't feel like I've played Rafa because when I played him in Doha this year I hadn't touched a racquet for almost all of December because I was home, because I was enjoying life with my daughter, with my friends.  I went there; I just played like two, three days.  I did the draw, I picked out my paper and I picked out Rafa and I said "Okay, if you play Rafa it's a nightmare for me.  Because at my age, playing a guy who moves so well, so powerful, I have very little chance of beating him."

When you don't practise for a couple of weeks it's a nightmare.  And it was a nightmare on the court.  [Nadal won 6-0, 6-1.]  It was really a nightmare.  I don't think I have a chance to beat him but I would like to play him once more, just to play a normal match.

Tactics: When I was younger I think I would have matched up better against his power.  On indoor carpet, maybe my chances would be a little better.  But I don't think enough to beat him.

Read Introduction and Part I

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