Matches of the first round of Grand Slam tournaments are rarely postponed in the memory of tennis fans, but the meeting of Frenchmen Fabrice Santoro and Arnaud Clement at Roland Garros 2004 was an exception to the rule.
Santoro took 6 hours and 33 minutes to defeat his compatriot Clement with a score of 6:4, 6:3, 6:7, 3:6, 16:14. This match was the longest in tennis history and remained so until John Isner and Nicolás Mayu’s famous 11-hour marathon at Wimbledon 2010.
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Santoro-Clement match postponed one day due to darkness
Fabrice Santoro and Arnaud Clement are far from the last tennis players from France in the 2000s. However, the batch brought them together already in the first round of Roland Garros – 2004. Santoro, 31, ranked 58th in the ATP ranking, 26-year-old Clement – 33. Arno was considered the favorite, although Fabrice had an advantage in personal meetings: 3:1.
Fabrice Santoro at Roland Garros 2004
Photo: Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images
From the start of the match, a stubborn struggle unfolded on the court named after Susan Lenglen. Santoro took the first two games: 6:4, 6:3, confirming the thesis that the higher-rated Clement is a suitable opponent for him. However, Arno found the strength to return to the game. Clement barely won the third set in a tiebreaker, after which he took the fourth set more confidently – 6:3.
Santoro and Clement spent 4 hours and 40 minutes on the court before the fifth set, with a score of 6-4, 6-3, 6-7, 3-6, 5-5, was postponed from Monday to Tuesday due to darkness. It seemed that the outcome was close and there would be no record length in this match, however, after the resumption of the match, the tennis players played long rallies and stubbornly took their serve.
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With the score at 11:11, Santoro finally managed to make a break. To win the match, he had to win the game on his serve. Clement was undaunted, and in response played very well at reception. The score was equalized again: 12:12, the emotional oscillation continued.
In the 25th game of the fifth set, Santoro again had a chance for a handicap, but was unable to convert two break points. As a result, he reached the score 14:13 in favor of Clemente. In game 28, Santoro Arno scored a match point. The key rally lasted long enough – the tired tennis players barely threw the ball to the opponent’s side. At the most crucial moment, Clément decided to take a chance and aggravate, but got into the net. Santoro felt confident and took the most important game, the score was even again: 14:14.
In the next draw, Santoro played perfectly at the reception. Fabrice had three break points in reserve, converted the first of them and pushed hard for the win in a tough matchup.
But not everything was too easy for Santoro. On serve from him, Fabrice was 0:40 behind, but managed to level the score: 40:40, earn another point and win a match point. This time, Santoro did not miss the opportunity to close the game with a dribble that forced Clément to capitulate.
Scoreboard after the match Fabrice Santoro – Arnaud Clement at Roland Garros – 2004
Photo: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
The French record seemed impressive but it only lasted six years.
Fabrice Santoro and Arnaud Clement fought on the court for 6 hours and 33 minutes. It was the longest match in tennis history. The record fell in 1982, when American John McEnroe beat Swede Mats Wilander in the Davis Cup in 6 hours and 22 minutes. Of course, Santoro and Clément also played the longest match in the history of Roland Garros. Before, this was the confrontation in the fourth round of the 1998 tournament between the Spanish Alex Corretha and the Argentine Hernán Gumi, when the former took charge in 5 hours and 31 minutes.
Tired, Santoro immediately after the decisive rally collapsed on the field and raised his hands to heaven, as if thanking God for ending the torment on the field. He wept with joy.
“No one expected such a turn of events. I thought that after the resumption of the match we would finish the game in 10-15 minutes, or in extreme cases in half an hour, so I only took two rackets and only one liter of water with me. Where else? And then such a marathon … At the end of the match, I began to worry. I broke one racket, the second one was on the way, and if it hadn’t survived, I don’t know what I would do. I don’t know if I’ll ever win anything else. I don’t know what’s next for me. But I am sure of one thing: I will remember this game for the rest of my life. And who would have thought that at the age of 31 I am capable of withstanding such loads. Tomorrow is my next game. You need to recover as quickly as possible. I do not pretend to predict if tomorrow I will be able to play at the same level, ”Santoro shared his emotions.
Arnaud Clement at Roland Garros – 2004
Photo: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
Arnaud Clement shook Santoro’s hand rather coolly after the match, despite the fact that they had been playing together for a long time in the French national team. Clement was very upset to lose in this way, despite the fact that his own name was in the record book.
“Honestly, I don’t care. What is the all-time record? Will I get a medal for this? If I don’t get anything, I don’t care. It doesn’t matter,” Clement said angrily.
After defeating Clement Santoro, in courage, he found the strength to beat Georgian Irakli Labadze – 6: 4, 3: 6, 2: 6, 6: 1, 6: 2 – in the next five sets in the second round of Roland Garros – 2004. But then the fatigue was still felt. In the third round, Fabrice did not miss a chance against a much less eminent compatriot Olivier Muti, who is not in the top 100 rating: 0: 6, 2: 6, 3: 6.
In any case, Santoro was satisfied. His match with Clement is considered the best of the first rounds of Roland Garros in the history of the tournament. The 2004 French Major was the last until the era of clay king Rafael Nadal. In the final, the spectators were waiting for the match of the not so Argentine stars Gastón Gaudio and Guillermo Coria – 0:6, 3:6, 6:4, 6:1, 8:6. Despite Gaudio’s determined victory in five sets, it was the meeting between Santoro and Clément at the start of the tournament that became the most memorable moment of that Slam.
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McEnroe and Wilander’s record for the longest tennis match stood for 22 years until broken by Santoro and Clément. It seemed that the French would hold first place for a long time, but in recent years, tough battles on the pitch have become the norm. At the present time, the match between Santoro and Clément occupies only fifth place in the historical ranking. Fabrice and Arnaud’s record was broken by Nicolas Mayut and John Isner, who at Wimbledon 2010 determined the winner in 11 hours and 5 minutes. Probably, it is this record that can be considered “eternal”. Santoro and Clement were also surpassed by Tomasz Berdych/Lukas Rosol and Stan Wawrinka/Marco Chiudinelli (7 hours and 1 minute in the 2013 Davis Cup), Leonardo Mayer and Joao Souza (6 hours and 43 minutes in the 2015 Davis Cup), Kevin Anderson and John Isner (6 hours and 36 minutes) at Wimbledon 2011.
Santoro and Clément continue to hold the longest lead at Roland Garros. In 2020, Italian Lorenzo Giustino beat Frenchman Corentin Moutet (0:6, 7:6, 7:6, 2:6, 18:16) in 6 hours and 5 minutes, closing in on Fabrice and Arnaud. But now, for the foreseeable future, it is unlikely that anyone will surpass Santoro and Clement’s record of 19 years ago, as the tournament introduced a 10-point tiebreaker in the fifth set at 6:6. It’s a shame, because this year Rafael Nadal does not participate in the “RG” for the first time since 2004. And it would be symbolic if, in the absence of the King of Mud, the public would once again see something iconic at the Parisian court.