Wimbledon: Andy Murray tested to the limit in seeing off Fognini

Meanwhile, Rafael Nadal looked ominous in his stunning victory over Karen Khachanov

Andy Murray scrambled his way into the second week of Wimbledon but his four-set victory over the fabulous Fabio Fognini was a desperately tough assignment and the defending champion will need every moment of the weekend to recover for the fourth round on Monday against the Frenchman Benoît Paire.

Murray won 6-2, 4-6, 6-1, 7-5 in two hours and 39 minutes in worsening light on Centre Court but looked down and out several times in the concluding frame, fighting his way from 2-5 down with his opponent playing inspired tennis until his concentration wavered right at the end.

The start was not quite as spectacular as Rafael Nadal, who earlier beat Karen Khachanov 6-1, 6-4, 7-6 (3), but there were few early signs that this was going to be Murray's most difficult night of the tournament. He is the first of the Big Four to drop a set. Yet the finish was one to savour, so packed with drama the applause at the end went on like a big night at La Scala.

“The end of the match was tense,” Murray said. “I saved maybe four set points, tight games to break him at five-all as well. Served it out really well to finish. It was a very up-and-down match, but I managed to get through. I didn’t feel it was the best tennis at times.


“It’s difficult when you’re playing a guy who has all the shots like him. He generates power with very short swings. It’s difficult to see when he’s going to hit the ball big. He was taking me out of the rhythm. It was getting dark. We probably would have had to come off and bring on the roof if I’d lost that fourth set. I feel OK. I didn’t feel I moved as well today as I did in the first couple of matches. I’ve got a couple of days break now and hopefully I can work on that, and come out and play some good tennis on Monday.”

Fognini went for his shots from the off, but a fourth botched forehand gave Murray the opening break in the sixth game. The Scot survived his own break point, then broke again when Fognini’s serve fell to pieces, consecutive double faults handing Murray the set in just under half an hour.

Then came the fightback, not altogether unexpected, but it surprised Murray nonetheless. He surely imagined he was set for an early night back in Oxshott with Kim and Sophia when Fognini rudely interrupted his dinner plans. Murray hit a poor backhand to drop serve in the fifth game and could not repair the damage.

As he has done several times in the past, Fognini now induced shivers of uncertainty in Murray’s strokeplay, freezing his self-confidence as he barrelled into every exchange as if it were the last rally and he was about to win the title. But he got over-excited at the start of the third set and Murray finally had room to breath when the Italian shanked a forehand long in the fourth game.

There is a widely held and correct view on the Tour that to strike Fognini on one of his great days is very hell. It happened to Murray in Rome this year when there was little he could to do to counter the blasts of power and pin-point placement of an opponent lifted by the support of his home supporters. Fognini has rarely played better than that; he lost in the next match, of course, confirmation of the theory that to get caught up in his whirlwind is the most wretched luck because it invariably blows itself out.

It is, of course, dangerous to mistake a momentary blip for a total collapse and Murray had to guard against the inclination to relax. He will have been quietly pleased to see his opponent having his right ankle wrapped as he prepared to build on his 4-1 lead. The discomfort looked to have kicked in a couple of games earlier and did not appear to be serious.

Fognini went to the service line suspecting the set was now gone and he played accordingly, with an absence of the venom that had gone before. Where there had been zest now there was resignation. Murray broke to love and served out the set.

The job was almost done. With Fognini now burdened by the scoreboard and his gathering ennui, what had been an enthralling contest for more than an hour looked to be reverting to a routine finish to go with the encouraging start. But Fognini was not done. Even when he’s losing, he’s still in the match one way or another. There seemed no impairment to his movement, although his temperament was tested when the crowd got on his case after he was chided and docked a point for an audible obscenity in the fifth game. When he picked up a half-volley from his toes and smashed a winner with elan his mood brightened considerably – until he double-faulted for deuce. But he held. He was happy again.

The ball was leaving Fognini’s racket with near-silent loveliness, gliding again into perfect spots. Murray had to fight hard to stay with him, relieved when his opponent butchered a forehand on break point, disappointed when a drop shot fell short, and rightly furious with himself when he double-faulted.

Fognini, rejuvenated, held to love for 5-2. Murray, rattled, complained that Fognini was taking took long between points. The skies were darkening in tempo with Murray’s mood. A seventh double fault cancelled out an ace, but he saved two set points and kept the set alive through deuce four times.

Fognini was tormenting Murray with the delicacy of his chips and lobs but there was diminishing rigour in his game. Scrapping for every point, the champion’s heart beat strongly again and he got back to five-all. Fognini saved break point with an outrageous backhand into the ad corner, but Murray made him crack again, and stepped up to serve for the match.

The electricity that rippled around the now dark arena could have lit up a town. An ace to start, his 14th; a dumped backhand from Fognini; an unreturnable serve – and a 15th ace. What a way to win a tennis match.

Meanwhile, Rafael Nadal struck a blow for Wimbledon’s old guard as he powered through to the second week with a Centre Court beasting of one of the brightest young players in the game.

Twenty-one-year-old Russian Karen Khachanov felt the full force of Nadal for almost an hour before joining the battle too late, as Spain’s two-time champion sealed a 6-1 6-4 7-6 (7/3) third-round victory.

Watched from the Royal Box by his compatriot and friend, the green-jacketed Masters champion Sergio Garcia, Nadal showed why he has won 15 tennis majors in his time and might add another a week on Sunday.

Veteran Luxembourg left-hander Gilles Muller awaits him in the fourth round, and the champion of 2008 and 2010 said of that prospect: "It's a very tough one because he played a lot on grass this year.

He won more than anybody, I think. “But that’s the second week. All the matches are difficult. Let’s see if I am able to keep playing well.”

(Guardian service)