PARIS (AP) — Leading two sets to one but already down a break in the fourth, Gael Monfils decided he needed to catch his breath.
So he tanked the set. Lost it 6-0. Didn’t even try.
And his strategy worked perfectly.
The 23rd-seeded Frenchman advanced to the fourth round at the French Open by beating Fabio Fognini 5-7, 6-2, 6-4, 0-6, 6-2 in a match that had a combined 137 unforced errors and one penalty point.
“He (broke) me straight away. Somehow I was starting to struggle a little bit, not cramping, but I feel really tired,” Monfils said of his fourth-set tactics. “And then I tried to break back. Couldn’t break back.
“It’s, like, I want to serve first in the fifth. So, I mean, the only option I had is to take 6-love. Why should I make any effort?”
In the fifth set, Monfils jumped out to a 3-0 lead, earning the last point for free when Fognini was penalized for throwing his racket in frustration following a forehand that went wide. The racket landed near a ball boy.
Still sulking after the penalty point was ordered, it was Fognini’s turn to slow things down.
The Italian called for a medical timeout to have his left thigh massaged and taped, drawing boos from the French crowd.
“I called the physio because I was feeling, during the fourth set, some pain on my left quad and nothing more,” Fognini said.
Monfils, who lost to Fognini in five sets at Roland Garros in 2010, said there was more to it than that.
“You know, he was tired. He would grumble and say he’s not happy, and he took time,” Monfils said. “He told the supervisor or the chair umpire, he said, ‘I want to take my three minutes, get me the physio.’
“Then I told the chair umpire, ‘Well, I’m tired too.’ I said, ‘One and a half minutes he’s discussed with you and then after this he’s asking for the physiotherapist to come? How strange.’ But then, he did it right. He got the physiotherapist, and he broke back. Good thing he did that. Well played.”
The match, however, was rather poorly played, stats-wise, anyway.
Monfils and Fognini combined to make more than twice as many unforced errors as winners, with the Italian managing 43 winners and 81 unforced errors and the Frenchman chipping in with 23 and 56.
Regardless of the numbers, Monfils is headed to the fourth round to face Guillermo Garcia-Lopez of Spain, the man who eliminated Australian Open champion Stan Wawrinka in the first round.
“I’m going to do ice bath for sure tonight and tomorrow. Will do a lot of stretching, massage, and maybe bike a little bit, try to eat good,” Monfils said. “Try to be ready for Monday.”