In and Out Of A Fognini
May 27, 2010 -- The controversy that darkened Court Philippe Chatrier just before 10 PM last night should never have happened. When Tournament Referee Stefan Fransson trotted out to speak with Gael Monfils and Fabio Fognini he could have emphatically said 'play is suspended due to darkness.'
But he didn't. He, instead, suggested they stop.
It was 4-games all and 9:30 at night. Fognini had come from two sets back, and 1-4 down in the third, to even the match at 4-games all in the fifth. Monfils and Fognini brushed away Fransson's suggestion until his entourage in the stands interfered, gesturing that he stop, get off court now, end it.
Finally at 10 PM the match was called with the fifth set tied five-all.
Here's the thing... why didn't the officials take charge? Why did Fognini's team interfere and then get no coaching violation? And, why did Bernardes take so long to level the point penalty on Fognini?
Fransson's suggestion that these players stop made as much sense as parents who consult their five-year-old kids about whether they want to go to summer camp. You don't consult with your kids... you tell them, in a nice fun way that they're about to go to a camp in the woods and it'll be the best thing since HDTV, which it won't be but who's really paying attention. The picture they plant in the child's mind persuades them to accept the idea.
Had Fransson said, "All other courts have ceased play and we will now do the same," both players would have packed up their racquets and left for the night no questions asked. But, he did not say that.
The six minutes of madness and drama acted out by Fognini next was a scene from a soap opera. His entourage signaled for him to stop. Get off the court, they gestured. It's time to go home. And Fognini agreed to plead his case. He'd changed his mind.
His father -- Fulvio Fognini (no kidding) -- then relayed the next strategy for his son: fake an injury and call for a medical time out, which would have further delayed the start of the ninth game.
At that juncture, Bernardes could have warned or penalized father Fulvio and the Coach Serrano for a coaching violation. No player's support team can coach from the box. However, it happens. Bernardes also could have put a lid on Fognini's tantrum, which he later did as the #95-ranked Italian climbed up Bernardes's chair like a spider all the while continuing his appeal.
Why develop policy and rules, if they aren't implemented in cases like this? Why hire officials?
Yes... the situation was probably more complex than reported. And, hopefully all parties involved will learn and adjust their behavior, and choices, the next time this happens. Because it will happen again.
Had the officials stepped up to the baseline and made their calls pronto, Fulvio would not have accused match officials of being 'casalingo,' as reported by Tom Tebbutt of Toronto's Globe & Mail. Fulvio played the favoritism card. His son was denied because Monfils is French, not because Papa had intervened.
Today when the two finally got to play the end of their match, which was well beyond the expected start time due to frequent bouts of rain, Fognini defeated Monfils 9-7 in the fifth and advanced to the third round -- the farthest he's ever gone in a major.
Monfils' coach, Roger Rasheed, has helped cut back on the court antics from the talented and athletic Frenchman. Rasheed now must tweak Monfils' game. He is much too talented to waste energy by extending rallies using his athleticism to then lose.
Several times today, Monfils stepped it up. He constructed winning points. But they were too infrequent. Interspersed between these moments of genius, Monfils slipped back to lackadaisical hitting, as if he were waiting for Fognini to miss. Monfils' brilliance shines when his offensive skills control the match. Remember his first set win over Nadal last year at the U. S. Open? Phew... he didn't make a mistake and Nadal was left flatfooted. Monfils lost the match partially because he wasted energy celebrating his prowess in the first set. Another no-no Rasheed should nix.
Fabio Fognini turned 23 three days ago and pro in 2005. His highest ranking was 92 in 2008. He has no career titles and no career wins over a top-ten player; however, Monfils is currently ranked #15 and had reached #9 in the spring and fall of 2009.
Considering his victory today at the French, Fognini will probably do better against his next opponent, Stanislaus Wawrinka, the #20 seed. Fognini doesn't have any noticeable weapons to his game. He is consistent and senses opportunities to attack on red clay. He may have to play, again, tomorrow if the weather breaks and all backup matches push through. If he has recovered, the more diligently he should work to extend his run at this year's French Open.
Fognini is one match away from meeting Roger Federer, if he beats Wawrinka and Federer doesn't lose to the qualifier Julian Reister.
Both outcomes are unlikely. But... this is a major tournament and no one player is perfect or perfectly guaranteed victory.