As 24-year-old Fabio Fognini  and seven years older Albert Montanes  a few minutes after 11 a.m. stepped into the Court Suzanne Lenglen, probably no-one thought it would be the most dramatic match of this year’s tournament. I’ve been watching tennis for 20 years, but can’t evoke a 5-setter seen before, finished in such extraordinary circumstances!
For both short players (Montanes – 175 cm, Fognini – 178 cm) this fourth round match had a special meaning because the winner had guaranteed his first major quarterfinal in career. They both were eager (Montanes was screaming “Vamos!“, Fognini “Tira! Tira!“) and nervous, the quality of tennis was decent though. There wasn’t anything special in the scoreline of the four sets, although interesting things occurred in two sets: Fognini won the 2nd set 6-4 despite a comfortable 4:0* (30-0) lead and the 4th set 6-3, being *1:3 (30-30) down – in that moment played great backhand DTL and finished the point with a high backhand volley. Montanes held his serve to lead 4:1 in the 5th set after four straight backhand errors by Fognini, seemed that the Spaniard was on his way to the biggest achievement in career. A few minutes afterwards he led 5:2, however, Fognini looked surprisingly self-confident. He leveled at 5 games apiece, being two points away from defeat with Montanes serving at 5:3. In the 11th game the Italian had a double mini-match point – Montanes saved the first break point with a forehand drop-shot, the second one thanks to a service winner and won the game, sealed with another “Vamos!”. An unusual suspense began in the following game with Fognini missing first serve at 15-30. He suffered cramps in his left leg… lingered with the 2nd serve having a grimace on the face, could receive a warning, but female chair umpire – Louise Engzell – left her chair and after a short conversation with Fognini, allowed him to receive a treatment! Montanes was a bit disorientated, didn’t know what to do, whilst Fognini was complaining to a trainer, changing a grip in his racquet in the meantime. After the unexpected break, he risked a forehand which gave him ’30 all’ and won the next two points. It’s amazing that since that 12th game to the last (20th) game of the set, Fognini was barely running, trying to finish the points as quick as possible. The 16th game (8:7 for Montanes) was ridiculous: linesman shouted five times “faute de pied” (foot fault) at Fognini’s serves (!) – I would say that his hypothetical triumph in this match appeared absolutely impossible; he was limping, shrugging, foot faulting, on the other side of the net had an experienced guy, who hadn’t lost a 5-setter since Australian Open 2002 (!), who’d lost only once at the main level from a match point up, had beaten the Italian twice this year on clay; Fognini in turn, had won only two MP-down encounters, and it was against Challenger-level players (Werner Eschauer, Blaz Kavcic)… The Italian somehow managed to get the game saving two match points. At 9:8 (40-15) Montanes had a double match point and Fognini’s second serve. The Spaniard tried to finish it off with a return winner but missed with a frame of his racquet… the next point and Fognini plays arguably the fastest cross-court forehand in the match – typical ‘all or nothing’ shot! Fifth match point for Montanes and Fognini stuns everyone with a backhand drop-shot which drops on the net-cord and gives him ‘deuce’! Two baseline winners and ‘9 all’, in the following game despite strangely indifferent attitude he breaks Montanes to ’15’ and serves to win the match!
15-0 net-cord helps again after a hard forehand
30-0 amazing backhand
40-0 Montanes’s forehand error
The Spaniard saves two match points (return winner, double fault), but on the third match point sends a forehand into his own part of the court and Fognini advances to the quarter-finals!!
4-6, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, 11-9 after 4 hours 22 minutes!!! 5 match points saved – the most in this season, simultaneously the most at Roland Garros since 2004!
Fognini doesn’t show euphoria despite winning the most amazing match in career, he only spreads his hands in disbelieve, being surprised that some spectators booed him… Certainly there will be speculations whether Fognini’s treatment was unfair or foot faults were made on purpose to disrupt opponent’s concentration. Anyway he showed fantastic fighting spirit and astonishing potential, sending bombs from both sides in every corner of the court, actually standing on stiff legs Forza Italia! – in the following match on Lenglen court, Francesca Schiavone (Fognini’s compatriot) ousted Jelena Jankovic 6-3, 2-6, 6-4.
Protagonists of the epic battle said afterwards:
Fognini: “I have to be honest. I didn’t think I could win the match. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t serve. I would love to play the next match, because this is a little dream I’ve got going here. Even if I’m only at 50 percent, I want to play.”
Montanes: “I can’t say if he was pretending, if he was really hurt or not. He was hitting so hard I didn’t want to take too many risks. It’s always easy to say, ‘You could have done that. You should have done this. You should have seized more opportunities and been more aggressive on these points“.