| Frenchman Fabrice Santoro after defeating compatriot Arnaud Clement in a record-breaking six hours and 33 minutes in the first round of the French Open at Roland Garros on Tuesday. Santoro won 6-4, 6-3, 6-7 (5-7), 3-6, 16-14. (Reuters)
Paris: Fabrice Santoro’s fragile build and peculiar talents always made it likely he would take an unconventional route into the record books.
The diminutive and immensely gifted Frenchman duly claimed his place in tennis history at the French Open on Tuesday, winning the sport’s longest ever match in six hours, 33 minutes.
Santoro’s 6-4, 6-3, 6-7, 3-6, 16-14 victory over compatriot Arnaud Clement amply justified his nickname ‘Battling Fab’ and added a line to his unusual list of firsts.
The previous longest match in a Grand Slam — with matches played over five sets — had taken place in 1998 when Spaniard Alex Corretja beat Argentina’s Hernan Gumy in five hours 31 minutes, also at Roland Garros.
The longest match since 1968 had been a Davis Cup rubber between American John McEnroe and Swede Mats Wilander in 1982 which lasted six hours 22 minutes.
Clement, seeded 32nd, fought back from two sets down against his friend in a first round match interrupted by fading light on Monday evening. Santoro, who made only 40 unforced errors throughout the match, finally prevailed.
The first round match equalled the highest number of games played at the French Open since the introduction of tie-breaks in 1973, with 71 games.
“It’s an exceptional moment. More than victory, the intensity of the match and the strong emotions out there are what you’re looking for when you become a professional tennis player,” Santoro said.
French players also hold the record for the longest match in the women’s draw at Roland Garros. In 1995, a first round match between Noelle van Lottum and Veronique Buisson lasted four hours and seven minutes.
Defending French Open champion Juan Carlos Ferrero, doubtful before the tournament with a rib injury, beat German Tommy Haas 3-6, 6-4, 6-4, 6-2 to ease into the second round on Tuesday.
The Spaniard, seeded fourth, only made a last-minute decision to play but recovered from an erratic start to seal victory in two hours and 46 minutes.
Roger Federer packed a mighty punch, battering Belgian Kristof Vliegen 6-1, 6-2, 6-1 in the first round. The top seed spent just 75 minutes dismantling Vliegen’s meagre defences to overcome a psychological stumbling block. Federer, the Wimbledon and Australian Open champion, had lost in the first round here in 2002 and 2003.
Martin Verkerk, who shot from anonymity to the spotlight when he reached the French Open final last year, opened his 2004 campaign here with a 7-5, 6-3, 6-1 victory over France’s Julien Boutter.
In women’s singles, Serena Williams made a victorious return trouncing Iveta Benesova 6-2, 6-2. The American second seed had fled the same arena in tears last year when a jeering French crowd and an inspired Justine Henin-Hardenne had proved too much for her to handle.
But on a glorious Parisian afternoon, the former world number one — radiant in a pink outfit and with a red flower in her hair — swept past the Czech with imperious ease.
The elder of the Williams siblings, Venus advanced to the second round with a patchy 6-2, 6-4 victory over Thailand’s Tamarine Tanasugarn on this day.
The 23-year-old, who reached the final at here in 2002.
But nine times Wimbledon champion Martina Navratilova’s singles comeback lasted just 62 minutes as she was unceremoniously ejected in the first round.
Twenty years after winning the second of her two French titles, the 47-year-old American lost 6-1, 6-3, to 19-year-old Gisela Dulko of Argentina.
Mahesh-Max No. 3
Mahesh Bhupathi and Max Mirnyi have been seeded No. 3 in men’s doubles and open their campaign against Sebastien de Chaunac and Stephane Robert.
Tenth seeds Leander Paes and David Rikl face Spaniards Juan Ignacio Carrasco and Ruben Ramirez Hidalgo in the first round.
Both the Indians, who lost in the semis last year, play on Wednesday.
Bhupathi, who sustained groin and calf muscle injuries in his last match at the Hamburg Masters, said: “The leg feels better... It’s a little weak but should get better as the week goes on.”