When late becomes too late
With a steady drizzle cleansing Roland Garros on Thursday, you could find the replay on a number of French television stations -- not to mention Tennis Channel back home in the States. Even on the third or fourth pass, it wasn't any less compelling.
For the record, it was suspended at 9:55 p.m. on Wednesday with the score 5-5 in the fifth set -- with the sparse crowd (mostly amped-up schoolchildren) howling, Fognini screaming at tournament referee Stefan Fransson and chair umpire Carlos Bernardes, and the gaunt Frenchman limping off on severely cramping legs. It was so dark during the last two games that it was difficult to see the lines from a vantage point 100 feet from the court. The faint, ancillary light from the two large scoreboards actually cast faint shadows on the court.
Apparently, the linesmen couldn't see either; they didn't make many calls down the stretch.
"In my 30 years of tennis -- watching qualifiers, Grand Slams, whatever -- I've never seen a match played in that kind of darkness," said ESPN analyst Darren Cahill.
And though critics smelled a home-cooked French fix (Monfils wanted to continue and Fognini didn't), it was more a lack of decisive decision-making.
The French Federation and the International Tennis Federation could not verify that it was the latest a match had gone at Roland Garros, but French journalists said they believed it was the latest.
The most recent late match was two years ago when Venus Williams finished off Flavia Pennetta at 9:48 p.m. The anecdotal favorite for latest previous match goes to Peter McNamara and Andres Gomez, who played to 9-all and 9:50 p.m. before retiring to fight another day in 1982.
A quick recap: Monfils, the No. 13 seed, won the first two sets easily, but started to weaken. At 4-all, around 9:30, the two players apparently agreed to continue but Fognini seemed to change his mind when he glanced over to his father, Fulvio, who was making the international sign for a timeout. Later, he pointed to his leg, seeming to suggest a feigned injury timeout.
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Fognini, arguing, stalled for more than five minutes. He was hit with a penalty point, but won his service game and ran out to a 15-40 lead on Monfils' weakened serve. The Frenchman would save three match points before walking off with the match clock at 3 hours, 41 minutes.
It was more than 35 minutes later, by the match clock, when Monfils dumped a limp forehand into the net to give Fognini an almost anticlimactic 2-6, 4-6, 7-5, 6-4, 9-7 victory.
Fognini exulted, but shook hands with Bernardes without incident.
Was it the craziest match he's ever played?
"I think so," Fognini said. "Look at the score. It's an incredible match."
What about the objection at 4-all in the fifth? Could he see the ball?
"No, not really," Fognini said. "It was difficult, but that's tennis. The supervisor decided to continue, so we had to continue."
The volatile Marcos Baghdatis also managed to finish his match with Marcel Granollers before the third rain delay visited Roland Garros. Baghdatis was ahead 4-6, 6-1, 7-5 and completed the victory with a 6-2 fourth set.
Andy Murray was the last to complete his match from Wednesday. After dropping the second set, he prevailed 6-2, 6-7 (5), 6-3, 6-2.
3 things I KNOW I think
1. Friday, weather permitting, will be a fabulous day of tennis: The dance card was already crowded with matches featuring Roger Federer and Venus Williams, but the rain pushed Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams into the mix -- and both Justine Henin and Maria Sharapova will have to complete their matches as well.
2. I am already looking forward to the John Isner-Tomas Berdych match: That's 158 inches worth of tennis player, to start with. If Isner can get by the fragile No. 15 seed (hardly a remote possibility), he'd meet the winner of Andy Murray and Marcos Baghdatis in the fourth round.
3. Never, ever whine about the heat in Paris: For two days, it was uncomfortably hot in the City of Light, somewhere past 80. The temperature in the main press room was 10 to 15 degrees warmer than that. That can be a problem when standard hygiene protocols are not followed, as sometimes happens on this side of the Atlantic. Numerous complaints ensued, along with calls for cooler weather. The temperature soon dropped drastically and, of course, it rained for two days. What a miserable experience, for writers and tennis players alike. On Thursday, for instance, Andy Roddick's second-round match ended more than nine hours after it was supposed to have begun.
Greg Garber is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
Out of Serb-ice
Just when you might have been wondering if Ana Ivanovic was something more than a one-hit wonder, she threw in a real stinker Thursday.
The 2008 French Open champion lost to Alisa Kleybanova 6-3, 6-0. It was over in 64 minutes and it was sad to watch -- especially in the venue that will probably go down as the lead item in her career résumé.
"I don't think I played that bad, actually," Ivanovic said afterward. "For a while, I think she didn't miss a ball at all. I was a little bit unlucky with so many line calls on my serve and just everything going out."
Really? Bad luck?
Since winning here at Roland Garros, Ivanovic has completely fallen off the table. Sure, she was a finalist at Indian Wells a year ago, but her record in the intervening two years is a very mediocre 45-33. Her serve vanished and her ranking plummeted to No. 58 when she lost to Agnieszka Radwanska in Miami and then Stuttgart.
And then something wonderful happened in Rome. Channeling the 2008 Ascendant Ana, she beat No. 10-ranked Victoria Azarenka, No. 6 Elena Dementieva and No. 18 Nadia Petrova. Even when she lost to Maria Martinez Sanchez in the semifinals, it was a huge step forward.
In Madrid, she regressed. Ivanovic led fellow Serb Jelena Jankovic 6-4, 2-0 in their first match of the tournament -- and then lost 12 of 15 games, a microcosm of her two-year funk. Afterward, Jankovic pulled off a passable impersonation of Ivanovic's signature fist pump.
"It's very hard for me to comment on that," Ivanovic said Thursday. "You know how they say: 'Sport doesn't build character.'"
That was the only rational thing Ivanovic said in a brief postmatch interview. At one point she was asked what she needed to do to get back to that level of a few years ago.
"I think I'm on the right path," Ivanovic said, "and I'm doing a lot of things right."
Au revoir, Kimiko
It was, the Japanese player said, the greatest victory of her "second" career, after returning from a 12-year retirement in 2008.
On Thursday, an aching calf muscle sent her home. She fell 6-3, 6-0 to Jarmila Groth.
"I went to the clinic and doctor said, of course, "Don't play,'" Date-Krumm said. "My character ... I don't like to retire. I wanted to try to do my best."
She's only 28 years old, but it seems like Elena Dementieva has been around for ages. This is her 46th consecutive appearance in a Grand Slam event, which leads all active players. She's followed by Jill Craybas and Francesca Schiavone (39); Tathiana Garbin (34); Marion Bartoli, Svetlana Kuznetsova and Dinara Safina (31).
"It's going to be a tough challenge for me," Dementieva said. "Not much time to recover. It's going to be a tough one."
Scouting The Americans
U.S. mettle count: 13
Day 5 American win total: 2
With Mardy Fish's second-round match with Ivan Ljubicic suspended at 2-6, 7-6 (8), the American win total was two.
Overall record: 13-14
United States singles wins:Venus Williams (2)
Andy Roddick (2)
John Isner (2)
Mardy Fish (1)
Robby Ginepri (1)
Serena Williams (1)
Jill Craybas (1)
Bethanie Mattek-Sands (1)
Varvara Lepchenko (1)
Taylor Dent (1)
Note: Italics indicate players with second-round matches yet to play; bold-faced players have been eliminated.
Tweet of the Day
"I want to kill myself! But first I will kill @SvetlanaK27 -- now get the title, girl. Going to the Louvre now to get some culture in the head" -- Andrea Petkovic after losing to Kuznetsova in three tight sets.