PARIS – The match that groped its way to a weird hiatus on a damp and dark Wednesday night at 5-5 in the fifth set, returned after another day of rain at Roland Garros and finally ended with a defeat for the big French favorite Gael Monfils at the hands of the little Italian, Fabio Fognini.
The eventual score was 2-6, 4-6, 7-5, 6-4, 9-7 and it was no more than Fognini deserved after Monfils had won the argument about continuing in near darkness the previous evening. Fognini had already squandered three match points by the time the referee Stefan Fransson -- a Swede of considerable experience -- had walked on court with the clear intention of calling the players in just after 9:30 p.m.
Fognini, who had originally wanted to play on, got a signal from his coach to stop but Monfils, sniffing victory, persuaded Fransson to let them continue. Fognini argued against that decision for almost five minutes and was eventually docked a point penalty.
But he kept his composure and the match was finally forced to a temporary halt at 9:57 because Court Phillipe Chatrier was almost entirely enveloped in darkness apart from the glow from the press seats and hospitality boxes. On Court One, Andy Murray's match against Juan Ignacio Chela had been stopped at 9:33 p.m. by assistant referee Wayne McEwen, so Fransson's insistence on playing on was unfathomable.
On the resumption almost 22 hours later, under very similar conditions, Fognini went 0-30 down on his serve but slowly began eating away at the Frenchman's confidence once again. He had battled back from two sets to love down the previous day by an almost lackadaisical method of backcourt rallying. He has a forehand which he hits quite gently with precious little foot movement before suddenly upping the pace after 15 or 20 deceptive strokes.
This was the method he used to lull Monfils into error, and when match point arrived at 8-7, a netted forehand brought the curtain down on France's main hope of seizing the title. Realistically, only Jo-Wilfried Tsonga remains with any kind of chance.
The rain started Thursday just a few minutes before the scheduled start of play at 11:00 a.m. and it continued until 3:30 p.m. There were more interruptions later and it was something of a miracle that the patient crowds saw as much tennis as they did.
Three Americans stuck at it and two came through. Andy Roddick finally eradicated the errors and went on the attack against a Slovenian newcomer, Blaz Kavcic, winning 6-3, 5-7, 6-4, 6-2. John Isner hit Switzerland's Marco Chiudinelli with 38 aces -- quite a feat on a damp clay court -- and beat Roger Federer's boyhood friend 6-7, 7-6, 7-6, 6-4, a familiar sort of score for an Isner match.
Happily, the giant from the University of Georgia showed a lot more grit than his pal Sam Querrey, who had slumped to an ignominious defeat against Robby Ginepri two days before. Isner has been travelling in Europe just as long -- eight weeks to date -- but obviously has no intention of going home just yet.
And Mardy Fish is still hanging in there, having saved set point in the breaker against the experienced and highly talented Croat Ivan Ljubicic. Before the match was called for the night at a set apiece, Fish had missed two set points himself -- one with a double fault -- before scoring with a terrific forehand winner up the line to take it 10-8. Ljubicic had taken the first set 6-2, but now it's anybody's match.
Returning to Court One almost 24 hours after he began yesterday, Murray fought off a spirited challenge from Chela and secured his sixth victory in seven meetings with the Argentine, 6-2, 6-7, 6-3, 6-2. There was a lot to admire in the duel as Chela decided he had to blast his ground strokes as hard as possible in an attempt to break down the Scottish defenses. He was sufficiently successful to grab the second set on the breaker but Murray always had the drop shot up his sleeve and, although he used it more sparingly than he had the night before, he regained control of the match and will now face Marcos Baghdatis in the third round.