Today we saw the end of an era. Two of the great players, the great characters of the game today have played their final Grand Slam match.
The first is Fabrice Santoro, the French magician, who played in his 69th and final Slam today, going down in the first round to Juan Carlos Ferrero. He has got to be one of the most unique, dynamic players to watch and I think the game will miss him tremendously. He brings a great verve and vigour to everything he does - he isn't a big guy, but his presence is huge.
Actually, one of the most memorable tennis shots I ever saw was from Santoro. It was Australian Open '06, I think - he was playing quarters against David Nalbandian. Nalbandian ended up crushing him in straights, but there was this beautiful shot Santoro played... a drop shot that landed just over the net but which had so much spin on it that it dropped back onto Santoro's side before Nalbandian could come anywhere near it. It was beautiful.
Santoro plays with his mind rather than with brawn, and I really appreciate it. There is an art to his tennis which is simply stunning. I wonder if there are any French juniors coming up who have chosen to emulate Santoro. If there are, I would love to see them play.
Marat Safin once said that being told he had to play Santoro was like being told he was going to die, and indeed these two have had an interesting head to head over the years... even at the height of Marat's powers, he was still frustrated by the little French wizard. It is fitting, perhaps, that their Slam careers end on the same day - and that, for Marat, it ends at the US Open, the place where, in a way, it all began for him. It was nearly ten years ago that he scored that phenomenal win over Sampras in the final... he may have left in the first round this year, but the US Open will never forget this one of their favourite sons. Indeed, tennis will never forget Marat Safin. There have been wild players, tempestuous players, players with tempers and fits of rage and lots of girls - but I don't think there has ever been anyone quite like Marat Safin.
If Fabrice was responsible for one of my favourite shots, Marat was responsible for one of my favourite matches - the only match Roger Federer has lost I can say I genuinely enjoyed. The semi final of the Australian Open 2005. Two greats, both talented beyond belief, going toe to toe for five sets on Rod Laver Arena. Marat came out on top but tennis was the winner that night. People talk about the final of Wimbledon '08 as the greatest match of all time but I personally think this one was better. Federer and Safin, whatever their respective results might have been, are certainly the most talented players of their generation. And the game will miss Marat, miss it sorely.
However, I think Marat is a little over the game. It is time for them to part ways, at least for a little while. But I hope he rediscovers his love for it sometime. Not as a player, necessarily - but as long as tennis endures, there will always be a place within in it for Marat Safin.
So farewell from the Slams and the Slam fans, Marat, Fabrice. You will be missed - and you will be remembered.
US Open (Flushing Meadows)
Rafael Nadal def. Richard Gasquet, 6-2 6-2 6-3
Gael Monfils def. Jeremy Chardy, 6-1 6-4 6-3
Juan Carlos Ferrero def. Fabrice Santoro, 6-4 6-3 6-3
Nicolas Almagro def. Steve Darcis, 6-2 6-4 2-6 7-6 (10-8)
Jurgen Melzer def. Marat Safin, 1-6 6-4 6-3 6-4
Andreas Beck def. Evgeny Korolev, 6-3 6-4 2-6 2-6 6-4
Nicolas Kiefer def. Michael Llodra, 6-3 6-4 6-4
Pablo Cuevas def. Chris Guccione, 6-4 7-6 (7-4) 6-0
Thomaz Bellucci def. Yen-hsun Lu, 6-4 6-2 6-3
Jose Acasuso def. Marcos Daniel, 6-2 6-4 6-3
Daniel Koellerer def. Rui Machado, 6-2 6-4 2-6 6-2
Venus Williams def. Bethanie Mattek-Sands, 6-4 6-2
Vera Zvonareva def. Anna Chakvetadze, 3-6 6-1 6-1
Victoria Azarenka def. Barbora Zahlavova Strycova, 6-2 6-1
Flavia Pennetta def. Sania Mirza, 6-0 6-0
Maria Kirilenko def. Agnieszka Radwanska, 6-4 2-6 6-4
Kim Clijsters def. Marion Bartoli, 5-7 6-1 6-2
Vania King def. Samantha Stosur, 7-5 6-4
Aleksandra Wozniak def. Amelie Mauresmo, 6-4 6-0
Li Na def. Michelle Larcher de Brito, 6-1 6-3
Kirsten Flipkens def. Anabel Medina Garrigues, 6-1 6-3
Francesca Schiavone def. Stefanie Voegele, 6-4 6-4
Elena Vesnina def. Jill Craybas, 7-6 (8-6) 6-1
Maria Jose Martinez Sanches def. Angelique Kerber, 7-5 6-3
Magdalena Rybarikova def. Chang Kai-Chen, 4-6 6-2 6-2
3 weeks ago