SANTORO WINS HISTORIC EPIC
Fabrice Santoro won the longest match in tennis history at the French Open on Tuesday.
The French star beat compatriot Arnaud Clement 6-4 6-3 6-7 3-6 16-14 in a match that lasted an amazing six hours and 33 minutes.
After Clement had fought back from two sets down, the players were forced off at 5-5 in the final set on Monday night due to fading light.
When they returned on Tuesday morning, the set continued with serve until Santoro made what appeared to be the crucial break to take a 12-11 lead.
But Clement, the 32nd seed, struck back immediately to ensure the war of attrition continued.
Clement, who had squandered one match point on Monday, gained another at 14-13, but Santoro saved it and then broke in the following game to leave himself serving for the match for a second time.
Santoro looked set to choke again when he fell 0-40 down but he battled back to clinch victory, collapsing to the floor in delight - and exhaustion - as he did so.
Santoro, who broke down in tears after his win, said: "This is an exceptional moment for me. Beyond the win there was a great emotion on court and that's what I am playing for.
"We were both heroes in that match. This is the first time in my career that I had to stop a match that way and then win it that way.
"When I arrived on court on Tuesday to complete the fifth set, I took two bottles of mineral water, thinking I would be on court for only 10 minutes."
Clement was not feeling so heroic.
"Frankly I don't give a damn, what world record?" he said.
"Do I get a medal? If I'm not getting anything, frankly I'm not interested. It just doesn't count. Anyway it was split into two days."
Whatever, it was more than an hour longer than the previous longest Grand Slam match and set record after record as it progressed under a burning sun on Suzanne Lenglen court, though it only just squeezed into history as the longest of all time.
The previous record was a bizarre women's contest between Vicky Nelson Dunbar and Jean Hepner on the Virginia Slims circuit in the United States in 1984 which lasted six hours and 31 minutes - and that was for just two sets.
One rally alone lasted 29 minutes and contained 643 shots before Nelson Dunbar triumphed 6-4 7-6.
The better-known men's record had been a Davis Cup match in 1982 between John McEnroe and Sweden's Mats Wilander which lasted six hours and 22 minutes while the longest previous Grand Slam match, here at Roland Garros, was a mere five hours and 31 minutes between Spain's Alex Corretja and Argentina's Hernan Gumy.
Meanwhile, Roger Federer laid down his title claims for all to see with a quickfire win in round one.
The top seed and world number one needed just 76 minutes to sweep past Belgian Kristof Vliegen.
Vliegen, who only reached the main draw as a lucky loser after suffering defeat in the final round of qualifying, had no answer to Federer's skills out on Court Suzanne Lenglen.
Federer, who began the tournament as the bookies' favourite, surged to a 6-1 6-2 6-1 victory, clinching it with a crunching forehand winner.
It was the Swiss star's first win at Roland Garros in three years and he now plays German Nicolas Kiefer in round two.
Federer later admitted he had drawn inspiration from Andre Agassi's surprising first-round defeat to unknown Frenchman Jerome Haehnel to ensure he avoided suffering a similar upset.
"I never thought Agassi would lose but I knew Jerome and his potential as I trained with him a few times," Federer said.
"But it proved that anyone can beat you, no matter who you are and which level you are ranked at.
"It shows concentration is a vital element to success."
Federer also expressed his delight at avoiding another first-hurdle exit.
"I am so happy I progressed to the second round, this is a relief for me," he added.
Later in the day, Juan Carlos Ferrero showed he is in good enough shape to launch a decent title defence.
The reigning champion had been a major doubt to compete in the tournament following a fall in training earlier this month.
But he put rib and wrist injuries to one side as he beat the dangerous Tommy Haas in four sets, 3-6 6-4 6-4 6-2.
When former world number two Haas took the opener, the talk was of Ferrero being the first defending champion in the Open era to lose in the first round.
But he hit back in style and once he had won the second set with a late break to level the match, the Spanish fourth seed took control.
He won a tight third set and then breezed through the fourth in a style which suggests he will be no pushover for any player over the next fortnight.
Ferrero may not have looked in pain, but afterwards he said he had been affected by his injuries. In fact the fourth seed needed painkillers shortly before the match began.
"The doctor said there was not a risk for me to play. Two years ago I also took painkillers when there was actually a real risk for my injured ankle," he said.
"This time there is no risk and I want to defend my title.
"I have to take things day by day. I will see how I feel in two days' time.
"At the start I did not know how long I would play for.
"I felt better in the second set, was tired in the third, but overall I tried to enjoy myself without thinking about my physical state and it worked."
Lleyton Hewitt came through a see-saw match with Arnaud Di Pasquale, also in four sets.
At times, the former world number one made his opponent look like a novice, none more so than in the first set which he swept through 6-0.
Things got a lot tougher for the Australian in the second set though and he only managed to establish a two-set lead by winning a tie-break by seven points to five.
Still the Moroccan-born Frenchman refused to throw in the towel and he earned himself a lifeline in the match by taking the third set 6-4 with some determined play.
That was the cue for the 12th seed to ratchet up his game once more and he ensured there would be no shock comeback as he raced to victory in the fourth set by winning it 6-1.
Three-time champion Gustavo Kuerten had to fend off a great comeback from a virtual unknown to stay in this year's event.
Kuerten, who won the title at Roland Garros in 1997, 2000 and 2001, looked on his way out when Nicolas Almagro served for the match at 5-4 in the final set, having fought back from two sets down.
But Kuerten won that crucial game and added the next two to reach round two courtesy of a 7-5 7-6 (7/2) 1-6 3-6 7-5 victory.
Seventh seed Rainer Schuettler joined Agassi through the exit door after a comprehensive defeat against 2002 Wimbledon semi-finalist Xavier Malisse.
Malisse gained the early initiative and never looked like surrendering it as he moved to a 6-4 7-5 6-4 win.
The 2003 runner-up Martin Verkerk got off to a winning start in this year's French Open.
The Dutchman, who shocked the tennis world with his run to the final a year ago before he lost to Ferrero, eased into round two with victory over France's Julien Boutter.
The big-serving 19th seed slammed down 11 aces and did not drop serve on his way to a 7-5 6-3 6-1 triumph.
The 2002 winner Albert Costa also won through, in four sets against Flavio Saretta, while the always-dangerous Marat Safin progressed when his opponent Agustin Calleri retired in the third set after the first two had been shared.
French favourite Sebastien Grosjean dropped just six games as he marched into round two.
The French number one, who reached the semi-finals in Paris three years ago, thrashed qualifier Kevin Kim 6-1 6-1 6-4.
Eighth seed David Nalbandian was given a tougher workout by teenager Richard Gasquet.
It took Nalbandian two hours and 31 minutes to record his 6-4 7-5 7-6 (7/1) victory over the 17-year-old former world junior number one whose serve let him down on the day.
Also through is 14th seed Jiri Novak who progressed into the last 64 with a four-set win over Antony Dupuis.
But Max Mirnyi was one of the lower seeds to fall. He lost out to Frenchman Julien Benneteau, going down 7-5 7-5 1-6 6-3 out on Court 17.