The clay season is officially starting this week with the Monte Carlo tournament. A popular event for the players since it is perfect to prepare for Roland Garros. And has been since 1897. This shows how its history, even recent, is full of little stories and anecdotes. Anthology.
"Nadal hugged me"
Does the name Wojciech Fibak rings a bell to you? Greatest player that Poland ever gave the world, the former winner of the Australian Open met Rafael Nadal on a day of 2010 in the aisles of the Monte Carlo tournament. Coincidentally, this meeting happened days after the crash of the Tupolev Tu-154 plane which caused the death of 96 passengers, including that of Polish President Lech Kaczynski. The two players exchanged a few words. Then the Spaniard, overwhelmed with emotion, suddenly started to hug Fibak. Tears even started to run down his face. « Nadal took me in his arms, he said that he was very fond of Poland, which is where he won his first ATP title (the Sopot tournament in 2004, ed.) I couldn't believe it. What a man!»
"You have your life ahead of you"
The match of his life, within a hair's breadth. Finalist at Roland Garros in 1999, Andrei Medvedev dominated Andre Agassi for two sets (6-1, 6-2) and was only five points away from the trophy but ended up losing the match. A great performance, after all, when you know that the Ukrainian was on the verge of quitting tennis a few weeks earlier. In his autobiography “Open”, Agassi said that, left by his girlfriend, his future opponent went on a pub-crawl during the Monte Carlo tournament to drown his sorrows. He seriously thought about retiring when the Kid of Las Vegas helped him feel better by drinking with him and giving him a few tips to improve his game. « How can you say that? Look at me: I’m 29, injured, divorced, and you're the one complaining? You're 24, your have your life ahead of you » wrote the American. «Every time we met in the dressing rooms or, after, around Roland Garros, we always smiled and winked at each other. »
A draw in tennis, is it even possible?
Trick question, to ask and shine at dinner parties: who won the Monte Carlo tournament in 1981? Answer: no one. Yes, the final between Jimmy Connors and Guillermo Vilas was never finished. At five games all in the first set, a heavy rain stopped the match... forever! On this Monday afternoon, the program was already delayed by 24 hours. Despite the promises made by both players, the organizers never managed to find a date for a replay, knowing that no regulation requires a tournament to complete its final when the rain interrupts it. Everything depends on players who, in these cases, both get ATP points and the finalist prize money.
Ivan Lendl in Monte Carlo, under duress
Contrary to popular belief, professional tennis players do not (completely) choose their calendar. The ATP requires them to participate in a minimum number of tournaments per season. In 1985, Ivan Lendl was then asked to come and play on clay in Monte Carlo. The reason? Having declined two competitions earlier in the year, a third refusal would have seen him risk a fine of several thousand dollars. A decision for the less absurd since the Czechoslovak played on hard courts the previous week in Fort Myers, Florida, and the following week in indoor, in Dallas. Despite this insane program, Lendl won the three tournaments in three weeks. Unshakeable.
«I was only half-awake»
Spring 1986. Yannick Noah made it to the final of Monte Carlo. During the night before the match, a message from Cecilia, his wife informed him of the birth of their daughter, Yelena, in New York. The excitement, alcohol and lack of sleep exhausted him, and he lost in two sets against Joakim Nyström, a Swedish player. "I was only half-awake," he explained. But he still had a doubles final to play. In the dressing rooms, minutes before his second match of the day, a stranger who saw him anxious offered him a glass of wine. He drank a pint before the frightened eyes of his teammate who was biting all his nails. Two hours later, the two French won the trophy. “His greatest,” he confided years later to Laurent Boyer, in French TV show Frequenstar.