Wed May 26, 2010 5:12 pm EDT
Look closely at the picture above. If you squint closely you can see No. 13 seed Gael Monfils of France standing in the foreground while serving to Italy's Fabio Fognini. Squint even closer and you might be able to find the ball Monfils was tossing into the air.
It was after 9:50 p.m. Wednesday in France and the pair were playing the fifth set of a bizarre second-round match at the French Open. A few minutes later, after Monfils saved three match points, play was suspended for darkness. The ball had barely been visible for the previous two games.
Sound crazy enough yet? That's only the beginning. Here's a look at the five most ridiculous moments from the Gael Monfils-Fabio Fognini match:
1. A tournament referee evidently halted the match and then reconsidered when pressed by Monfils. With darkness enveloping the court at Philippe Chatrier, rules official Stefan Fransson looked set to halt the match at 4-4. It made perfect sense. The match was square, it was almost too dark to see and every other match at Roland Garros had been stopped.
But after a brief discussion with the chair umpire and Monfils (Fognini initially stood near the baseline), Fransson determined that the players would play two more games. Then: chaos. Fognini refused to play, the French fans jeered and, six minutes after Fransson stepped onto the court, play had yet to resume. It was too dark when the discussion began. Six minutes later conditions were unplayable.
2. Fognini received a point penalty for delay of game before serving at 4-4. The delay was initially caused by Fransson's indecision but it was elongated by Fognini's defiance. Buoyed by his coach who was making a "don't play" gesture, Fognini stalled in an attempt to make Fransson reconsider. (At least that's our guess. None of this really makes any sense.) This riled up the partisan French crowd even more, which in turn gave Fognini another reason not to line up to serve. After what seemed like an eternity, the chair umpire finally gave Fognini a point penalty, which made him begin his serve down 0-15.
3. The match only went so long because Monfils choked away a two-set lead. Note to all you junior players out there: There's no need to force drop shots when you have a comfortable lead. Monfils inexplicably kept trying to run Fognini to the net while up two sets despite the fact that most of the drop shots had one of two outcomes: Fognini either got to it or Monfils hit an unforced error. The Italian is known as a player who folds when he gets down in matches. Giving him hope was the biggest mistake Monfils made all day. (Well, until he asked for the match to be prolonged.)
4. Fognini then choked away three match points after the chaos while Monfils was cramping. The Italian won his serve to go up 5-4 and then went up 40-15 on Monfils' serve. Monfils could barely move due to cramping and hobbled around the court. On his serve he stayed flat-footed and looked as if he was serving a volleyball in middle school gym class instead of in a Grand Slam tennis match. He was lucky nobody could see well enough to do anything but try to get the ball in play because if Fognini had run him even a little, it was doubtful he'd have been able to get to anything. Despite his ailments, Monfils prevailed on his serve due to three Fognini unforced errors on match points.
5. Sunset in Paris was at 9:40 p.m. on Wednesday evening. The match was halted at 9:56 p.m. local time. Patrick McEnroe, Pam Shriver and Darren Cahill said it was the darkest conditions they had ever seen at a professional tennis match. It was so dark outside that the Shot Spot technology wasn't working because there were no shadows with which to gauge the positioning of the ball.