Italy's Fognini again steals show in Paris
Novak Djokovic won his 43rd consecutive match; Roger Federer won the battle of the Swiss; Francesca Schiavone clung on to her title for one more day by beating Jelena Jankovic and an obscure Italian named Fabio Fognini who only seems to thrust himself into the limelight at the French Open, twisted the rules every which way before beating Albert Montanes, saving five match points in the process.
The Fognini-Montanes match was extraordinary on many levels. After covering a sport for a few decades, one is inclined to believe there is nothing new under the sun. There was plenty of sun at Roland Garros Sunday and something new duly appeared. An umpire got down from her chair in the middle of a game and invited a cramp-stricken player to go to the chair. I have never seen that before.
It happened to Fognini who was standing, immobilized, on his baseline, trying to serve at 15-30, 4-5 in the fifth set. After at least 60 seconds standing there, umpire Louise Engzell from Sweden walked over to him and said he could go and sit down. She said she did so because she couldn't make herself heard above the noise being created by the crowd on Court Suzanne Lenglen — the same court where, twelve months before, Fognini had created a sensation by beating Gael Monfils 9-7 in the fifth set.
Fognini, whose left leg was as stiff as a board, hobbled over and called the trainer. If this was a regular ATP tournament, the rules would have stated that, by leaving the court in the middle of a game, the player would have to forfeit that game. In this instance that would have given Montanes the fifth set 6-3.
But this is a Grand Slam, governed by a set of rules laid down by the Grand Slam committee. And, evidently, the 'forfeiting the game' clause does not apply. So Fognini got his massage and was able to resume. He was, however, still handicapped to such an extent that he was foot-faulted no less than nine times in the last eleven games because he couldn't control his cramping leg. Standing further back did not, apparently, occur to him. During that time, Montanes reached five match points and pushed four of them down the middle of the court, inviting the sort of go-for-broke winners that are the Italian's speciality. On the fifth, Montanes decided to take a swing and proceeded to hit the ball way out of court.
In the end, the 24-year-old from San Remo reached the first Grand Slam quarter final of his career by 4-6, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, 11-9 in 4 hrs 24 mins — which was just two minutes less than it took him to defeat Monfils last year.
"Tennis is a sport where anything can happen," Fognini said afterwards. "It's very unexpected. Of course I could have lost this match but I was trying to give my best. I asked if I could call the physio and the umpire said 'Yes'. I had a lot of pain and I will have to see what will happen."
Montanes, although very disappointed, did not object to anything that had occurred. "I think anyone is free to do what they can," said the Spaniard. "I just want to congratulate him for the way he played the match. I have no idea how badly he was injured. It's not for me to say."
One thing is certain, if Fognini cannot run properly against his next opponent there is no point turning up. Djokovic can beat anyone in the world at the moment, let alone a 5-foot-9 Italian ranked 49 playing on one leg. Later Sunday on Philippe Chatrier, Richard Gasquet, playing on two good legs, got thumped 6-4, 6-4, 6-2 by the rampant Serb who made light of the fact that there were 15,000 people cheering for his opponent. Gasquet kept them cheering with quite a few of his trademark backhands but it takes more than that to unnerve Djokovic at the moment.
Federer beat Stan Wawrinka, his OIympic gold medal winning doubles partner, for the ninth time in ten singles meetings 6-3, 6-2, 7-5 and, in doing so, beat Jimmy Connors' record of reaching the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam twenty-seven consecutive times. This was Federer's 28th. "That's great" he said, "but that's just another opportunity to go one step further."
Anyone who thinks Federer's thirst for more titles is waning is way off the mark.
Vera Zvonareva was the latest top women's seed to fall. The Russian, who reached the Wimbledon and US Open finals last year and was seeded No. 3 here, lost 7-6, 2-6, 6-2 to her big-hitting compatriot 14-seeded Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. At least Vera did not burst into tears afterwards as she has been inclined to do on numerous occasions in the past.
Afterwards, she refuted any notion that she had she had failed to be tough enough mentally on the big points. "There is no mental problem," she replied. "I fought hard. I fought the best I can. It was just that she played a little more aggressive and took more risk. The whole week I wasn't playing my best tennis and I still made it to the fourth round. So I suppose I should be satisfied."