Wimbledon 2017: Murray survives a Friday night fright

And breathe. Andy Murray survived a Friday night fright to dramatically keep alive his Wimbledon title defence.

The defending champion was stretched to breaking point by Fabio Fognini, the living, breathing embodiment of a fiery Italian.

This was a gloriously bonkers game of tennis, packed with incident and errors and played out under a crackling atmosphere that this place does better than anywhere.

We know that Murray battles not bottles and he saved five set points in the fourth set before coming through 6-2, 4-6, 6-1, 7-5 after two hours and 39 minutes. It secures the defending champion a place in the fourth round for the tenth straight year where Frenchman Benoit Paire now awaits.

This was a real rollercoaster, in the very best traditions of a watch from behind the sofa Wimbledon classic.

The roar of relief when he converted his first and only match point was guttural – because the scoreline doesn’t convey just how much of a knife-edge this encounter teetered on.

“I’m happy to get through the first week and anything can happen from here on,” said Murray.

“I didn’t play my best tennis but I got through and that’s a positive thing but I’ve got some things to work on.

“The end of the match was tense. It was an up and down match, I didn’t feel like it was the best tennis at times but I managed to get through and I was very happy with how I saved some big points against me.

“It was getting dark towards the end and I was probably thinking a bit about that. We would have had to go off for the roof to go on, so that would have meant a change in conditions. I’m pleased to get off in four because it was getting real dark at the end.

“I finished very strongly and I physically could have played a fifth set but I’m just relieved that I didn’t have to put everyone through that.”

Fognini, a mercurial player who roots himself to the baseline, prevented Murray from getting into a rhythm.

He found winners from across the court and – as his trademark – let rip with plenty of verbal volleys too, defaulting the fourth game of the fourth set for what the umpire called a ‘visible obscenity’.

Twelve months ago Novak Djokovic’s Wimbledon title defence was ended by Sam Querrey, a player seeded 28th. And for a moment, this year’s number 28 seed looked like making history repeat itself.

In six previous encounters this pair were deadlocked at three wins each but surely Murray was the master on a surface that Fognini has not hidden his distain for?

He duly took the first set with minimum fuss but dropped the second, his first of the tournament, as Fognini got on top of the his faltering serve, so unerring in his first two matches.

The third set was over in a blink but the fourth was a topsy-turvy affair, as both players let their emotions boil over in a super-charged atmosphere.

With light fading, the Italian looked to be forcing a decider at 5-3 up and spurned five set points to take this the distance.

But Murray seemed to summon new reserves, winning four games in succession to close out a match that was ultimately low on quality but high in drama.

“He’s the number one in the world but most of the time I was playing better than him,” fumed Fognini, who also claimed the French umpire was against him because Italy always beats France.

At times Murray seemed to be struggling with the hip injury that plagued his preparation but he now has a whole weekend to rest before he goes again.

“I feel OK I didn’t feel I moved as well as the first couple of matches,” he admitted.

“I didn’t feel like I moved particularly well but I’m not sure if that’s to do with my hip or the way he plays.

“I’ve got a couple of days break now and I can work on that and hopefully get myself in a good rhythm and play some good tennis on Monday.”

Until then, you can relax.

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