Monday 26 February 2018

Murray defies limp to see off pantomime villain Fognini

Murray: Survived scare. Photo credit: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire.
Murray: Survived scare. Photo credit: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire.

Simon Briggs

In a battle of two wounded soldiers, Andy Murray limped his way past an alternately inspired and listless Fabio Fognini. The prize was a place in the fourth round of Wimbledon for the 10th straight year, but Fognini proved to be a more challenging obstacle than anyone had expected.

As the light died on Centre Court, Murray managed to sneak through a bizarre yet fascinating match, 6-2 4-6 6-1 7-5 margin.

This was hardly the performance that Murray would have wanted. For a half-hour spell in the middle of the match, he found himself cast as the patsy in a show-stopping display from Fognini, a languid Italian who struts like a cockerel and has the hands of a magician.

Fognini switches from angelic tennis to utter carelessness in a manner that Nick Kyrgios might recognise. The villainous streak came out at the end of the first set, when he served three double-faults in a row. And at that stage, it looked as if it might be a quick day's work for Murray, who needed only 29 minutes to take the opener 6-2.

But Fognini was not the only man in Jekyll-and-Hyde form. Having not been broken in either of his first two matches, Murray began the second set by dropping his serve twice in three attempts. As Fognini tormented him with a bewildering combination of viciously struck forehands and deft drop-shots, Murray became the first member of the 'Big Four' to give up a set at this tournament.

The match had the potential to turn nasty at this stage, if Fognini had carried the same energy into the third set. But instead he began walking gingerly at the next changeover. Two games later, he had the trainer on and a lengthy medical time-out ensued, with strapping being applied to the right ankle.

Murray reeled off the next four games. But he was still unable to apply any telling blows, relying instead on consistency and desperate defence. As we moved towards the end of the fourth set, Fognini had hit more than 20 winners from the baseline and Murray only two.

The score was now 6-2, 4-6, 6-1 in favour of Murray, but the twists continued. Fognini was dancing around the court once again. And the Italian's volcanic temper was also roused by a bold call from the umpire, who docked him a point for a second code of conduct violation.

The first had come for racket abuse, at the end of the first set. The second was for an obscenity, early in the fourth. Now the Italian's intensity returned to where it had been in the second set, and the winners began to flow again. Some of his half-volleys were out of the world, showing off the artistry that had helped him wipe the floor with Murray in their most recent meeting, on a clay-court.

Murray's movement was starting to look laboured, his limp the limp between points growing more and more accentuated, prompting more fears about his troublesome left hip.

With his Errol Flynn cheekbones and smouldering demeanour, Fognini would make a perfect movie bad-guy, and the crowd were certainly treating him as such.

As the gloom closed in on the All England Club, the umpire docked Fognini another point - this time under the hindrance rule - for calling out "challenge" when he had no challenges left. It helped Murray grind his way back from 5-2 down in that fourth set to 7-5. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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