* Santoro draws the curtain on 20-year French Open career
* “Next May, I’ll no longer be a tennis player,” he says
(Adds quotes, details)
By Julien Pretot
PARIS, May 27 (Reuters) - Fabrice Santoro, dubbed the ‘Magician’ for his habit of mystifying opponents, ran out of tricks in his final Roland Garros appearance on Wednesday.
In his 20th and final visit to the French Open, Santoro was outfoxed 6-3 6-1 3-6 6-4 by Belgian Christophe Rochus in a delayed first round match on Suzanne Lenglen Court.
“I started my career some 20 years ago on Court 10 and I did not expect to finish it here with a mike in my hands, talking to you,” the 36-year-old told the crowd who were giving him a standing ovation.
“So, if I get it right, I will not be back next year?”
The Frenchman, who will retire at the end of the year, had his match stopped at dusk on Tuesday while trailing 5-3 in the fourth set.
Upon resumption, he was kept on court for just eight minutes.
Santoro started by holding serve to love, notably retrieving a Rochus drop shot with a spectacular slide.
During the change of ends, fans chanted “Fa-brice, Fa-brice” and Santoro gave them something to cheer about when he won the first point on Rochus’s serve with a clever charge to the net.
But it failed to make an impact on Rochus, who ended the show with a crosscourt backhand passing shot on his third match point.
Santoro, who is still ranked 41st in the world, started his Roland Garros career in 1989 with a first-round defeat in five sets against American David Wheaton.
During his run, he faced players such as Spain’s Jordi Arrese (1990), Mats Wilander (1991) and Stefan Edberg (1995).
Santoro also holds the record of the longest ever match in grand slam tennis in a 6-4 6-3 6-7 3-6 16-14 first-round win over compatriot Arnaud Clement in 2004 after six hours and 33 minutes.
“(At match point) I had this feeling that I was turning a page, even though I still have 10 tournaments that I’ll play (until the end of the season),” Santoro told reporters.
“So when you’ve played this tournament 20 years in a row, in May you start wearing your clay shoes, you start preparing to be able to play for three, four, five hours, even 6 hours 33 minutes for my longest match, so you feel next year in May I will no longer be a tennis player.”
Before he disappeared for good, Santoro got a chance to make one more appearance at Roland Garros as he teamed up with compatriot Michael Llodra for a doubles match later on Wednesday on Court Two.
The pair, however, were beaten 6-4 6-4 by Serb Dusan Vemic and German Mischa Zverev in the first round.
Editing by Pritha Sarkar; To query or comment on this story email email@example.com