Editor’s Note: But for the COVID-19 pandemic, Roland Garros would now be underway. During the next two weeks ATPTour.com will look back on memorable matches and happenings at the clay-court Grand Slam, which tournament organisers are now hoping to stage in September.
Before John Isner and Nicolas Mahut dominated world headlines with their legendary 2010 Wimbledon encounter, Fabrice Santoro and Arnaud Clement rewrote the record books at 2004 Roland Garros by playing the then-longest recorded match in history.
After six hours and 33 minutes, the 31-year-old Santoro won their all-French first-round battle 6-4, 6-3, 6-7(5), 3-6, 16-14. Their clash, which spanned two days, broke the existing match length record in Paris by a staggering 62 minutes.
“It was a beautiful match,” Santoro said. “It was a great match on a great court in Paris and probably the best crowd ever for us. But aside from the record, I’m happy to know that at the age I’ve reached, I can still play tennis for six hours.”
Having saved a match point on Monday before darkness halted play at 5-5 in the fifth set, Santoro erased another one when play resumed on Tuesday. With neither player possessing a powerful shot to end points quickly, their rallies were grueling games of chess that featured plenty of spins and angles.
Santoro had difficulty breathing in the final game and found himself down 0/40 when serving for the match at 15-14. But after clawing back to Deuce, he fired an ace and a backhand passing shot winner before collapsing to the ground in delight. As the crowd rose in unison to give both men a standing ovation, Santoro buried his face in a towel and wept.
“This morning, I strung just two rackets,” Santoro said. “I prepared one litre of drinks before the match. I said, ‘Okay, maybe you will play 10 or 15 minutes, maybe half an hour.’ And we played two hours.”
The Frenchman returned the next day and scored another five-set win against Irakli Labadze before running out of steam in the third round against fellow Frenchman Olivier Mutis. His epic battle with Clement is currently the fifth-longest recorded match in history.