It had the soundscape of a Davis Cup tie. British and Italian fans could be heard vying for bragging rights in Rio’s tight centre court. But in this Davis Cup atmosphere, it was not to be a repeat of Fognini’s stunning 2014 Davis Cup victory. Instead, the Olympic Tennis Centre was the stage for some masterful Murray escapology in a 6-1, 2-6, 6-3 win.
Andy Murray entered this match looking primed for Olympic glory. He had set down a serious marker with his imperious victories over Viktor Troicki and Juan Monaco; Djokovic, Federer, Wawrinka, and now Tsonga and Ferrer were on the sidelines. So with Fognini dispatched 6-1 in the opening set, it seemed Murray’s Olympic stock was set to rise even further.
This fixture was not to be so simple though. Fognini’s hold of serve at the end of the first set had energised him. With Murray leading 2-1 early in the second set, Fognini staved off a game point and swiftly reciprocated the break of serve. The Italian then surged into a 4-2 lead with a hold and another break of the Scot’s serve. Game on, the Twitterverse hummed.
The confidence was truly pumping through the veins of the underdog, and even a 0-30 deficit could not prevent him from consolidating his break. Inexplicably, Murray was then broken for a third time on the bounce, allowing a transformed Fognini to clinch the set 6-2. What had appeared just a consolation game in the opening set had in fact spearheaded a remarkable revival.
Fognini’s momentum continued into the final set. In spite of Murray’s best efforts and a gruellingly long deuce game, the Italian swiped his opponent’s service game away from him yet again to advance into a 2-0 lead.
The scene was set for a historic Murray comeback. Could the World #2 stop the rot? The British contingent willed him on to do so; Murray immediately applied pressure on the Fognini serve. But the script was to be revised–the pendulum of a long deuce game once again swung decisively in the Italian’s favour.
Murray looked sapped of energy, bereft of belief, and he incessantly complained about the conditions. He was doing an uncanny impersonation of his opponent in the first set. Yet the power of the scoreboard was to enter the equation once again. Murray’s hold precipitated another charge on Fognini’s serve, and after the Italian dumped a careless backhand into the net, the Scot had the crucial break back.
As the set progressed, Fognini’s piston right-arm became increasingly erroneous. The line between seamless mastery and careless nonchalance was proving to be a fine one. Murray soon clinched another break, and at 5-3 earned the double-break that finally settled this turbulent tie. There was no roar from Murray, only a relieved glance up at his box. 15 wins and counting for the man of the moment.
The Italian’s over-zealous forehand on match point in fact exemplified the ‘Murray effect’. Murray’s tenacious retrieving had driven the world #40 to increasingly audacious shot-making, and the margin for error simply became too slim. As the pressure of leading escalated, Fognini’s unforced error count rocketed. That is testament to Murray’s persistency, and the mental resolve Ivan Lendl’s return has clearly instilled.
The Rio Olympics draw now lies wide open for Andy Murray. Rafael Nadal and Kei Nishikori still remain, certainly dangerous opposition. But with the absence of the man who has repeatedly felled him at the last hurdle, Murray surely looks the favourite to reclaim Olympic gold.