Andy Murray still has ambitious rankings target in sight despite Rome defeat
Andy Murray’s mission to reach his next rankings target could still be within reach before the grass court season gets underway, even after he was beaten by old foe Fabio Fognini at the Italian Open.
Murray, fresh from claiming success at an ATP Challenger event in Aix-en-Provence on Sunday, had hoped to extend his five-match winning streak but instead saw his time in Rome end early to the 35-year-old home favourite.
A 6-4 4-6 6-4 defeat to the world number 130 halts the momentum of the Briton, who will now turn his attention to the French Open later this month.
Murray has stated his ambition is to earn a seeding at Wimbledon in July and if he had come through this match against Fognini, that target could have been in his sights.
Yet this was a disappointing defeat for Murray, who continues to battle on clay courts despite admitting his focus is on performing well on home soil at Wimbledon.
Murray will need to win a couple of matches at the French Open to push himself into the top 32 of the ATP rankings, which will secure him a seeding at the All England Club.
Yet this was not an occasion to remember for three-time Grand Slam winner Murray, who made the worst possible start in Italy with Fognini able to break him in his opening service game.
While the Scot did force a number of opportunities to break back at 3-2, he failed to seize the moment and his frustration boiled over later in the set with a debate occurring with umpire Mohamed Lahyani over a tight line call that saw Fognini go 5-3 up.
Fognini went on to clinch a 69-minute opener but quickly found himself 4-0 down in the second with Murray hitting his straps, albeit helped by a string of double-faults from his opponent.
A second-set wobble saw the veterans exchange breaks before Murray did force a decider with the encounter by that point edging past the two-hour mark.
Despite Fognini seemingly struggling physically during the second set, he found a new lease of life and took the initiative with an early break in the third.
Murray tried to keep pace with the Italian, who was mixing an array of baseline winners with unforced errors but a concern for the two-time Wimbledon winner occurred when he held his back during the seventh game of the third.
It was not enough to stop the new world number 42 from continuing, and yet there would be no big fightback on this occasion with Fognini earning a fifth victory in nine meetings thanks to an ace after two hours and 55 minutes.
This latest first-round exit at an ATP 1000 event on clay, after similar losses in Madrid and Monto-Carlo, will give Murray around 10 days of preparation before Roland Garros begins on May 22 where he is now unlikely to be seeded.
Despite this defeat, former British No.1 Andrew Castle has suggested Murray’s eagerness to continue his career at the top of the game should be seen as “inspirational”.
Speaking to Tennis365 at a Game4Padel event in London, Castle told us that Murray should continue to perform at the top of the game for as long as his desire remains strong.
“No one should tell Andy Murray to stop unless he decides himself,” Castle told us.
“This is a guy who has achieved so much in the game and he still loves playing. It’s inspirational to see him battling out there, taking on people a lot younger than him and still desperate to win.
“He likes doing it and so long as that is the case, he should carry on. He is out there with a metal hip and what he is trying to do is quite inspirational. You are a long time retired.”
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