The most frustrating moment of Andy Murray’s season arguably came against Fabio Fognini this May at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia. The world No. 1 struggled for form in his opening match in Rome as the Italian delighted the home crowd with a straight-sets win.
But in another epic chapter of their intense rivalry, top seed Murray got revenge in their third-round clash on Friday at Wimbledon. The defending champion rallied from 2-5 in the fourth set, saving five set points to prevail over the 28th seed Fognini 6-2, 4-6, 6-1, 7-5 in two hours and 39 minutes.
“I didn’t feel like I played my best tennis, but I won and I got through it. That’s a really positive thing,” said Murray. “Now I’ve got two days to work on some things, rest up a little bit, and get used to the conditions that we’re playing in now. I’m obviously pleased to be in the second week. Anything can happen from here.”
Murray takes the lead in his FedEx ATP Head2Head with Fognini 4-3. They had never played at a Grand Slam or on a grass court prior to today. Although Murray has a far superior grass-court record to Fognini and was the on-paper favourite, the defending champion said the Italian’s variety makes him a tricky opponent on this surface.
“Fabio has got good timing. I think the quicker court helps his serve a little bit. He puts a lot of returns back in play. He moves well. He has a good slice, volleys very well,” said Murray. “He played great tennis at times tonight. In my mind, there’s no reason why he can’t play well on grass.”
Fognini also appeared to feel the same way. He insisted after the match that not only did he have the ability to beat the top seed, but should have based on his level of tennis.
“Right now I don’t feel really happy, but I’m really happy about my performance,” said Fognini. “He’s one of the best defenders in the world. Remember, he’s No. 1 in the world [and] most of the time I was playing better than him.”
Next up for the Brit is Benoit Paire, who prevailed earlier in the day 6-2, 7-6(3), 6-3 over Jerzy Janowicz. Murray won his lone FedEx ATP Head2Head meeting with Paire last year at the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters.
It appeared that Murray would cruise on Friday after storming through the opening set, breaking Fognini twice and hitting eight winners to three errors. But the Italian characteristically clawed his way into the contest, taking advantage of a brief dip in form from Murray to break at 2-2 in the second set. The slight advantage would be all Fognini needed to level the match.
Fognini’s form dipped dramatically in the third set, with the 28th seed hitting 14 errors and moving far more slowly during the baseline rallies. He took a medical timeout down 1-4 in the second set to have his right ankle treated, but it did little to stop Murray’s onslaught. The Brit didn’t hit a single unforced error in the set, making good on his first set point to take a commanding lead.
Fognini received a point penalty for audible obscenity that allowed Murray to level the fourth set at 2-2, but the Italian used the frustrating moment to his advantage. Hitting his shots with greater depth and pace, he began to apply pressure to the top seed. A double fault from Murray gave the 28th seed a 4-2 lead in the fourth set and Fognini held a pair of set points two games later.
But buoyed by the home crowd, Murray began his improbable comeback. He erased both set points at 2-5 with aggressive play, then saved another pair of set points at 3-5 with forehand winners before breaking Fognini after the Italian mishit a drop shot. A fifth set point came and went at 4-5 after a Fognini forehand floated long. Murray grabbed the critical break at 5-5 with a forehand error from Fognini, then hit an ace on his first match point and roared in triumph.