Santoro springs Dubai surprise on Youzhny
Fabrice Santoro, the 35-year-old Frenchman who once won one of the most amazing finals of all time here, caused another upset in the Dubai Open here Monday by beating Mikhail Youzhny, the world number 12, in the first round.
Six years ago Santoro climbed out of a wheelchair after a bout of serious food poisoning with the intention of playing a few games in the final for the benefit of a large crowd, and somehow went on to win it.
Now the Geneva-based evergreen looked as fit as any man can be - especially at an age by which most players have retired - to beat one of the year's surprise contenders.
In January Youzhny beat Rafael Nadal to win the Chennai title and then reached the quarter-final of the Australian Open, but now found himself lured into over-hitting by the slices and tactical mixtures of the tour's most idiosyncratic artist.
Asked how his 6-3, 6-4 defeat could have happened, Youzhny said: "It's not a question of Santoro. The problem is that I am in bad shape now and I can't show my best form."
Youzhny did not specify what bad shape this might be, though he did give credit to Santoro, who produced some marvelously entertaining moments.
These included a 'hot dog' shot from between his legs behind the baseline and back into court, though it didn't win the point, and a behind-the-back close range volley, which did.
"I like this place," Santoro said.
"I came here curious in 1993 (when the tournament started) and have come here most years since.
"It was a great performance to beat someone like Mikhail, who has been a consistent player in the last 12 months.
"I worked a lot on my serve the last couple of days. It was a key point: I served very well. For the rest, I didn't want to give him any angles, I didn't want to run. And it was a good strategy."
Santoro also returned serve well and got to the net on numerous occasions, all of which helped to break up the rhythm which can makes Youzhny a dangerous ground-stroker.
It also enabled Santoro to break Youzhny's serve in the fifth game, an advantage he clung to for the rest of the set.
His first break in the second set, for 3-2, was countered immediately by an excellent break back as Youzhny, in more patient mode, played his best game of the match.
But the Muscovite tried to press slightly harder in the next game, which led to his slicing a backhand into the net and then driving a forehand into the net - and dropping serve again.
From that Youzhny never quite recovered, though he did reach two points for a break back as Santoro was serving for the match.
Santoro's second round contest, against Novak Djokovic, the Australian Open champion from Serbia, may be his last match here, as he plans retirement this year.
His last remaining major ambition, he says, is to play a match on the centre court at Wimbledon, which surprisingly he never has.
It will be Santoro's last chance to do so in 2008, and he claims he has mentioned this to the powers-that-be.
"It's an official request," he said. (AFP)
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