Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer paid glowing tributes to French veteran Fabrice Santoro as the flamboyant home favourite prepared to embark on his 20th and last French Open adventure here on Tuesday.
Santoro, 36, has announced that he will retire at the end of the year and will be making a record-equalling 20th Roland Garros appearance when he takes on Belgian Christophe Rochus in the first round.
World number one Nadal led the acclaim for Tahiti-born Santoro, nicknamed 'The Magician' by American great Pete Sampras, describing him as “a legend on the tour”.
“He plays with his very own personal style, two hands. He was a very charismatic player on the tour, and he's a model for all of us,” said the Spaniard.
“Twenty years is a long career and that's fantastic. We all wish we can play for 20 years. So he had a beautiful career, and he really deserves a tribute.”
Among the records held by Santoro is that of the longest match ever played in the Open era, an epic 6hr 33min encounter with countryman Arnaud Clement in the first round of the 2004 French Open that saw Santoro eventually prevail 6-4, 6-3, 6-7 (5/7), 3-6, 16-14.
He also holds the record for the most Grand Slam appearances and will be playing in his 67th major this week.
Santoro enjoys a 7-2 record against Russian former world number one Marat Safin, who once famously joked: “Being told I would play Santoro was being told I was to die”.
However, Federer feels his greatest legacy will be the joy he brought to the court.
“It's become a great accomplishment for me to play against him a great many times,” said the Swiss.