May 29, 2011 -- Fabio Fognini fittingly has been crowned the Drama King of Clay, or should be.
In an improbable turn of events, the #49 ranked Italian Fognini (Foe-knee-knee, not Fog-knee-knee) upended all tennis protocol and defeated a rattled Alberto Montanes in a five-set thriller more suitable as a late entry into the Cannes Film Festival than a critical fourth-round match at a major.
At two points from defeat in the fifth, Fognini cramped, or so it seemed to millions of viewers around the world. His usual and rather stiff posture on court went rigid; he grimaced in pain and bent over grabbing his upper left thigh.
Chair umpire Enzelle hopped off her perch, trotted to the baseline where Fabio stood motionless and, we hope, mentioned that he couldn't take time out for cramps. The ATP Player Council decided last year that no player could benefit from cramping, which it considered a non-injury.
Chair Umpire Enzelle took Fognini's word as truth -- I'm injured -- and called for the trainer. Out he came with his backpack soon followed by Brian Early, head tournament referee.
Early reminded Fognini and the trainer that if this was a cramp the match had to continue. "It will take 30 seconds," the trainer told Early, immediately before he rubbed medicinal salve over the ailing thigh.
At that point, the trainer had made his decision and changed the course of tennis history. Whatever we thought we saw happen to Fognini, the trainer officially labeled a 'muscle pull' and thus transformed any notion of wrong doing into a pure and simple match moment. Had the trainer diagnosed the problem as a cramp, Fognini would have been defaulted from the match and Montanes would have moved on to his first quarterfinal berth at a major.
Meanwhile French fans jumped on the circus-wagon atmosphere with an around-the-stadium wave, as the British man calling the match for Tennis Channel's livestreaming broadcast yelled, "This stinks."
After the time-out Fognini returned to the baseline and held to 7-all.
The trainer tended Fabio's thigh, again, at the next changeover. Plus... he wrapped it.
The next six games amazed tout la monde -- plus the entire universe of sports.
Fognini foot-faulted nine times -- 9 times -- attempting, one would think, to throw the match to Montanes. However, the Spaniard was flustered and definitely didn't take the hint or lead. He was indecisive about tactics and overly consumed by Fognini's shot-making, as he stood dead center on his side of the court directing Montanes to run left and then right, until the inevitable unforced error flew off his racquet.
Montanes, who had been up 3-1 in the third set and 5-2 in the fourth, went on to blow five match points. He lost to the Drama King of Clay: 46 64 36 63 11-9 in 4 hours and 22 minutes, the second longest match ever at Roland Garros.
"The match was really complicated," Fognini said, as reported by Greg Garber at ESPN.com. "Montanes is a really good player. In the end, everything happen."
Justin Gimmelstob, on air for Tennis Channel and commenting on the controversy, said, "Rafa is irate." He also added that the players in the locker room were upset. "Anyone could see that that was a cramp," Gimmelstob added, after a clip from the match was shown.
Last year, the ATP Player Council, of which Nadal is part, amended the rules pertaining to cramps. Years back players that cramped were left alone on court to fend for themselves, writhing in pain. Later, cramps were considered reason for an injury time-out. When players abused the rule, leaning heavily on it to rest and delay the game to their advantage, the ATP Players Council stepped in with its latest amendment.
This will be Fognini's first foray into the quarters of any slam. However, he intimated to the press that he was in a "great deal of pain."
"I have to do some examinations with doctor," he said. "I really don't know what will happen."
Maybe by the time Fognini had made his way to the media, he knew Djokovic would be his quarterfinal opponent on Tuesday. If Fognini pulls out, giving Djokovic a walkover, the red-hot Serbian would be denied a chance to break Guierllmo Vilas's record of 46 straight match wins. There simple wouldn't be enough rounds left in the tournament.
Meanwhile ... and prior to these scenes that played out on Court Suzanne Lenglen, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova ousted the #3 seed Russian compatriot Vera Zvonareva, 76 (4) 26 62. This will be Pavlyuchenkova's first quarterfinal at Roland Garros. However, her win created another historic moment for the tournament. It will be the first in the Open Era (began 1968) that the three top women's seeds have bowed out before the quarterfinals.
"I'm very happy to be in quarterfinals," Anastasia said. "It really means a lot to me, especially against Vera. I knew it would be tough. She's very experienced and she fights to the end. I was trying to fight. I was trying to win so badly."
Pavlyuchenkova, who's nicknamed Papillon, was the top-ranked junior on the ITF circuit at the tender age of 14. She turned pro two years later. "I don't mean to sound arrogant," she told the tournament's website, "but I won everything in the juniors. When I turned pro I had to learn how to lose."
She lost so many matches she started to doubt herself. She has concluded, since then, that she had to go that route to get to the #15 rank she holds currently on the WTA Tour.
Papillon's grandmother played on the Soviet Union's national basketball team. Her father was in the country's national canoeing team, and has coached her brother in tennis. Her mother swam at a competitive level, too. The genes are precious commodities.
This year, Anastasia scored a solid win over Samantha Stosur in Madrid. And in January she defeated Jelena Jankovic in the finals of Monterrey for her third tour career title.
Papillon considers herself a fighter and never gives up. She certainly displayed that quality against Zvonareva today in a roller-coaster match, which she admitted wasn't her best tennis.
"I can play better tennis," Zvonareva told the press. "I had chances in the first and third sets, but when you play fifty-percent of your best tennis that's what happens. She played a great match and has great potential."
Pavlyuchenkova's next challenge is a giant one in the form of petite Francesca Schiavone, the defending champion at Roland Garros. Schiavone was all smiles later this afternoon, after defeating Jelena Jankovic 63 26 64.