First of all, we have to give great props to our project of interest this season, Fabio Fognini, for winning what most likely will go down as the match of the whole tournament, let alone just the first round. The first four sets of his match against Albert Montanes were played at a very high level, with players trading great shots and points back and forth. Towards the end of the fourth and the beginning of the fifth sets, Fognini looked a little slowed but still played through it. Montanes had a chance to close out the match at 5-3 in the fifth and could have avoided tons of drama, but he tightened up a little and let Fognini break back into the match. And then things got interesting.
Down 5-6 but serving, Fognini seemed to be in extreme pain. He called the trainer over in the middle of the game (which is legal in Slams as long as you are serving; if your opponent is serving then you must wait until the end of the game) and had his left thigh worked on for what appeared to be a cramp. There were outcries from fans and commentators, since according to ATP and ITF rules cramping is considered a fitness issue and not an injury and therefore a player cannot call a medical time out for cramping. Fognini claimed, and the umpire must have believed him, that it was a muscle strain and not cramps.
From that point on, Fognini could barely move. Every shot he went for from there was an attempted winner. And boy, was Fognini smashing the ball a thing of beauty! He hit clean winners on both his forehands and backhands to both ends of the court. He could no longer serve and was called for around 12 foot-faults in the last few games. Eventually, he just kept his front foot on the ground while serving. Still, while hitting incredible winners he managed to break Montanes and serve out the match, even though he double-faulted one match point away with a foot-fault.
Fabio Fognini vs Novak Djokovic:
Unfortunately, any prediction we can make for this match is irrelevant as Fognini has withdrawn from the tournament. The muscle strain was apparently too much to play on. Djokovic advances to the semifinals via a walkover.
Gael Monfils vs Roger Federer:
We also have to congratulate Monfils (who, interestingly enough, was in an epic match with none of than Fognini last year) on winning his own epic five-setter against David Ferrer. Monfils was the perfect matchup for Ferrer, as his big hitting and great movement counter Ferrer’s game perfectly. Monfils played the best match of his life over the last two days and will have to continue that to have any shot of beating Federer, who seems to be rounding into top form as the tournament progresses. Monfils has the talent to beat Federer (and actually won their last meeting) but will need to be absolutely perfect and hit huge shots to have a good chance. As good as Monfils was against Ferrer, he will need to be better against Federer. He can do it, but he has never really lived up to his potential before.
Prediction: Federer in four
Robin Soderling vs Rafael Nadal:
Nadal has not been playing well this French Open. He is obviously rattled and has admitted it. Those losses to Djokovic have shaken his confidence and it is obvious from his press conferences here at Roland Garros that he is headed very quickly towards a burnout. Nadal needs to find something very quickly to fire up his game. Soderling, on the other hand, has been on fire this tournament after a lackluster clay court season. He is hitting balls hard and with tremendous accuracy and depth from both wings. He is also moving very well and just eats up pace from opponents’ shots. With the way both players are playing recently, there should be a pretty obvious favorite and it’s not Nadal. I hope he can find some inspiration and play this match like he played Soderling in the final last year, but I just can’t see it happening. Soderling looks on a mission and wants his third straight upset of the #1 seed in Paris. He did call the trainer towards the end of his match with Gilles Simon with blisters on his hand and struggled a bit after that, but hopefully he’ll be good to go on Wednesday.
Prediction: Soderling in 4
Viktor Troicki/Andy Murray vs Juan Ignacio Chela
Play stopped in the middle of the fourth set Monday night between Andy Murray and Viktor Troicki. Unfortunately, we cannot wait on our predictions because the Monfils/Federer match will occur either before or simultaneously with the conclusion of this one. Murray came out very slowly and his injured ankle was clearly stiff. He seemed to loosen and gain mobility (though not his usual range of movement) when down 5-0 in the first set. Murray broke twice but it was not enough and Troicki took the set. Troicki took the second and Murray jumped to an early lead but then looked out of it again late, but the Scot brought his very best tennis late in the third set, winning the set and keeping himself in the match.
They will come back out to finish tomorrow with Murray having just won the fourth set to force a decider. Having an extra night to rest and heal will be great for Murray, who definitely is more talented than Troicki. However, Murray cannot afford to come back stiff like today. If he starts out slow again it is over. I see Murray taking this match in the fifth set and then easily handling Juan Ignacio Chela in straights on Wednesday. Either way, I cannot really see Chela handling Murray or Troicki in a Grand Slam quarterfinal. Even though Chela has been to the semis in Roland Garros before and Troicki has never reached this far, Troicki seems like the more solid player, both physically and mentally. Chela might be able to take a set off Troicki, but will not be able to get one off Murray.
If Murray wins, Andy Roddick will be guaranteed a return to the top 10 next week (unless Chela manages to reach the final). If Troicki reaches the semifinals here he will move up to #9 in the World and keep Andy Roddick at #11.
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