Of all the players I have ever seen play tennis, Fabrice Santoro's game is surely one of the most pleasurable to watch.
The 5'10" Frenchman is known throughout the tennis world as The Magician; rightly so, for some of the shots he can pull off are nothing short of magical.
His net game is the most beautiful you could ask to see. Yes, beautiful—for beauty is the only way to describe his movement around the court, his delicate touches of the ball at the net.
With deft hands, he will indulge his opponent in a game of volleys; with disguised genius, he will unleash a ferocious forehand, punishing any mistake of the man on the other side of the net.
That's not to say he is without error himself; 36-years-old, and pushing 37, his game has declined with his advancing years. Despite this, he is still a joy to watch; still the player I will forfeit any other match to see—and that includes the top four in the world.
He takes the sport as it is intended for the fans: As a game.
For him, it is not just a job, nor is it a matter of life and death: It is something he loves to do, evident in every match he plays. He plays to—and indeed, for—the crowd, with his entertaining rallies and exhibitionist shots.
Perhaps the perspective comes with age; perhaps it comes with the knowledge that his time left on the Tour is limited. For these are to be Santoro's last months playing with the ATP—he hangs up his rackets later this year.
Having him enter this final section of his career with a smile was not something his fans ever had to worry about; always good-natured and charming, this year was no different.
On drawing Rafael Nadal, then the unbeatable World No. 1, in the one of the first tournaments of the year—the Qatar Open, Doha—he responded (somewhat dryly):
"Happy New Year!"
This year, his calender has been somewhat reduced; he has played fewer tournaments and subsequently fewer matches.
However, he is here at the US Open this week: He opens his final campaign with a first-round match against former World No. 1, Juan Carlos Ferrero.
I hope to see him do well at the final Grand Slam of the year; it is the last time we shall see him in a major tournament.
But regardless of the result, I wish Fabrice Santoro the very best of after-tennis lives; with a full 20 years of playing professional tennis, he deserves it.
Farewell, our good magician; and may we see one last trick, one final flourish, before you fade away.