So tennis changed its cramping rules to avoid fake-cramping, and now what do we get? Fake not-cramping.
In the end, Albert Montanes was ripped off Sunday at the French Open. He should be in the quarterfinals on Tuesday, losing fair and square to Novak Djokovic. Instead, he’s out.
And, according to several reports, plenty of the world’s top players are furious.
Here’s what happened: Montanes was in a marathon against Fabio Fognini Sunday, and Fognini was serving, down 6-7, 15-30 in the fifth set. He single-faulted, then started hopping around, grimacing. His body was jolting around in that uncontrolled way that happens when it is cramping up. You don’t know what movement, or when, the sharp pain will grab the muscle and squeeze. After a minute, the chair umpire came down and asked him if he had an injury.
He said he did. Now, an injury and a cramp are not the same thing. Under new rules put in place to keep players from pretending to cramp so they can stop their opponent’s momentum, Fognini was not allowed to take a medical timeout for a cramp in the middle of a game without having the game taken away from him. If that game had been taken away, the match would have been over. So he claimed not to be cramping, but rather to have suffered an injury, which he is allowed treatment for.
Cramping is a fitness issue. An injury, theoretically, is not. Part of the test of tennis is fitness. So basically, this is what happened:
Montanes was about to win, and Fognini was 1) tired and 2) looking to break Montanes’ momentum. So Fognini sat down mid-game and took a little rest. Meanwhile, a trainer, who officially determines between injury and cramp, ruled that Fognini had an injury and gave a rubdown.
When Fognini came back, he won 4-6, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, 11-9, as Montanes pulled one of the biggest choke jobs you’ll ever see. In one game Fognini, flat-footed an unable to move normally, had five double-faults, including something I’ve never seen: a double-fault of two footfaults. Fognini was booed when he stood on the court afterward, theoretically to accept cheers and thank the crowd.
Montanes had kept hitting the ball right to him, and even started panicking. Maybe he should have taken a break and medical timeout for brain cramps?
“There’s always a match to be lost,’’ Montanes said, “and I lost today.’’
Rafael Nadal, a member of the ATP council, is angry about this, as are other players, according to The Tennis Channel’s Justin Gimelstob. Fognini said he would have his leg examined to determine what, if anything, is wrong, and whether he can make it to the quarterfinals.
A prediction: Doctors will say he suffered a mild strain. Why not? Every tennis player has strained muscles or minor tears. And it’s not as if they’re going to do an autopsy on him.
Keep in mind, despite the anger of top players, this is hardly the first time tennis players have found their way around the rules to save them. In fact, in the U.S. Open last year, Nadal said he didn’t know what to do on the last point, and looked to Uncle Toni, his coach, in the stands. There are rules prohibiting players from being coached during a match.
And at the Australian Open last year, Nikolay Davydenko was handling Roger Federer, who suddenly took a bathroom break. Federer later said he didn’t actually go to the bathroom. That is against the rules. Fake-bladder controlling?
He was just trying to throw off Davydenko. It worked. And God knows how many fake injuries Novak Djokovic has had in his career.
But Fognini is not Nadal, Federer or Djokovic. He is demonstrative and weird. At the French Open last year, he and Gael Monfils were playing in the dark. Fognini complained to the chair ump that the match should be stopped, and then, after his coaches told him to keep playing, changed his mind. When it finally was stopped, he complained.
“At the cloak rooms, he insulted everybody for 30 minutes,’’ Monfils said at the time. “It was not very friendly.’’
Well, Fognini, who did keep his cool impressively while playing with cramps, moves on to the quarters to lose to Djokovic. And Montanes is done, having to live with the idea that he was just ripped off, and that he couldn’t beat a guy who foot-faulted five times in one game.
Not sure which of those things would be harder to accept.