It’s been said that the current era in men’s tennis lacks personality which makes the likes of Fabio Fognini and Gael Monfils stand out amidst the scores of proper, tightlipped, and ultra-professional players on tour.
But when does personality become too much and what is the line players should not cross when it comes to on-court antics and outbursts?
Fognini should know. The Italian was fined a record $27,500 after his opening round at Wimbledon against Alex Kuznetsov.
The No16 seed was docked $20,000 for damaging the court with his racquet, $5,000 for telling Australian official Wayne McKewen he would “smash a racquet in your head” and $2,500 for making an obscene gesture at Kuznetsov.
Those are multiple lines crossed right there.
Fognini’s tirades meant that the ITF Supervisor was out on court for his next match before it even started – anticipating trouble – and his third round against No20 seed Kevin Anderson was purposefully scheduled on Court 17, despite the players’ high seeding which would normally warrant a show court.
“You’re not sure what you’re going to get,” Anderson said about playing Fognini. “I guess that’s the reason we were out on Court 17 today. It sort of lived up to what I thought it was going to be like. A lot of talking. I personally think that’s the way he copes with some of the stress of being on the tour.”
Fognini, who has a long history of disastrous incidents on court, was asked if he was repentant for his antics at Wimbledon. “I will always be the same. Sorry guys,” were his final words in press this week.
When it comes to Fognini, it’s quite easy to see that a majority of his antics are simply unacceptable.
But with other players, temper is not the problem – it’s them being too vocal on court which could be distracting for their opponents.
Monfils spent his entire first round at Wimbledon against Malek Jaziri talking and whining to his friends and appeared to be tanking the opening set – something he’s been accused of doing at the French Open as well. It prompted umpire Mohamed Lahyani to urge the Frenchman to try harder.
“At 3-1 Gael was clearly tanking, talking after each point to the French team,” says ex-WTA player Selima Sfar, who was sitting courtside during the match.
“He was like ‘I don’t want to be playing here on grass, it’s not a surface for me’.
“He’s a very nice guy so I don’t think he would do it to disturb his opponent, but if you see it black and white, it’s not appropriate.
“Professionally, yes he definitely crossed the line. Where you draw the line is, is this an example you want to give to kids? That’s a line for me.”
Lahyani says he doesn’t consider it gamesmanship from Monfils but he confirmed that he had to warn him about tanking early on.
But Monfils was heard on court responding to the Swede saying: “It’s 3-2. This way, when you’re not playing full sometimes, the guy gets down. You know, I’m sneaky.”
Asked whether Monfils crossed the line during the Jaziri match, retired Frenchman and beIN Sports commentator Fabrice Santoro said: “That was I think the limit. You can’t go over this limit because he was already talking too much. If you pass this limit you have to get a warning.
“Gael is like this, I want to say unfortunately. Because sometimes I like to see him more focused on the court. It was the same against (Jiri) Vesely in the second round and that’s probably the main reason why he lost the match, he was talking, he wasn’t very focused.
“Fognini or Gael, they don’t do this on purpose to disturb the opponent. That’s part of their character. I said I don’t want Gael to go over this because it’s not good but also he’s a very charismatic player on tour.
“The same goes for Fognini. Because they are talking, because they are sometimes throwing their racquet and that’s why so many people come to see them on the court.”
Former world No1 Jim Courier agrees with Santoro. The American concedes such players are walking a fine line but that personality doesn’t hurt.
“Gael’s not doing anything outside of the rules when he does that… He was talking to his friends. If it’s not his coach, I guess it’s fine.
“It’s personality, right? You’re talking about it, you’re going to write about it, so that can’t be bad for the sport if he’s doing it.
“For me the fine line is crossed when it looks like a player is not trying – so if they’re tanking a match, that’s a fineable offence and that’s also discretionary for the umpire to decide or the tournament referee.
“Of course if they’re doing things that are interfering with their opposition and taunting the opposition, talking to them directly – that’s out of bounds.”
Monfils had said after his first match that he feels uncomfortable on grass, that he was just being funny and could only play “just some part of the match”.
Asked whether he’d be distracted if he faced a player who was talking all the time, he said: “Every coach will tell you that you should focus on your game, not on the opponent.
“I don't care. If the guy is talking to anyone, it's fine. If he can talk to me, it's even better.”
World No2, Novak Djokovic, who has faced and beaten Monfils nine times throughout his career, says it’s often tough to judge but that he generally welcomes the idea of players showing some charisma on court.
“Gael likes to entertain, to get interaction with the crowd, with his team, which is absolutely fine,” said Djokovic. “I think that tennis is lacking a little bit of personalities to be honest.
“Of course there is importance in the value of each match, you put your game face on when you're on the court. You want to win.
“On the other hand, it's sport. People come to support the tennis, you as a player, but also they would like to see a little bit of your personality. I think that's absolutely fine by me. It's not something that I think has a negative impact on tennis.”