Andy Murray’s mission to reach his next ranking target could be within reach before the start of the grass court season, even after he was beaten by old foe Fabio Fognini at the Italian Open.
Murray, fresh from claiming success at the ATP Challenger event in Aix-en-Provence on Sunday, had hoped to extend his five-match winning streak but instead saw his stay in Rome end at the age of 35 as the home favourite.
The 6-4 4-6 6-4 loss to the world number 130 halted the Briton’s campaign, as he now turns his attention to the French Open later this month.
Murray has said his aim is to secure a seed at Wimbledon in July, and that target could have been in his sights had he reached this match against Fognini.
But this was a heartbreaking defeat for Murray, who continues to battle it out on clay courts despite acknowledging his focus on performing well on the court at Wimbledon.
Murray needs to win two matches at the French Open to push himself into the top 32 of the ATP rankings.
However, this was not an occasion to remember for three-time Grand Slam winner Murray.
The Scots had a number of chances to claw their way back to 3-2, but Fognini’s frustration could not be resolved late on after an argument with referee Mohamed Lahyani called a lineout that saw him go 5. -3 up.
Fognini continued his 69-minute opener but quickly found himself 4-0 down in the second as Murray hit the tie, aided by two fouls from his opponent.
A second-set win saw the veterans exchange breaks before Murray forced the decider past the two-hour mark.
Although Fognini appeared to be struggling physically in the second set, he found a new lease of life and took an early break in the third.
Murray tried to keep pace with the Italian, mixing a flurry of baseline winners with unforced errors, but the two-time Wimbledon winner’s threat came when he held his back in the seventh game of the third.
It wasn’t enough to stop the new world number 42 from going on, but there was to be no major fightback on this occasion as Fognini claimed his fifth win in nine meetings in AC after two hours and 55 minutes.
After similar losses in Madrid and Monte-Carlo, this latest first-round exit at the ATP 1000 event gives Mary a 10-day warm-up before Roland Garros kicks off on May 22.
Despite the defeat, former British No.1 Andrew Castle said Murray’s eagerness to continue his career at the top of the game should be seen as “inspiring”.
Speaking to Tennis365 at the Game4Padel event in London, Castle told us that Murray needs to keep working at the top of his game as long as he wants to.
“Nobody should be telling Andy Murray to stop unless he makes up his own mind,” Castle told us.
“This is a guy who has achieved so much in the game and still loves to play. It’s inspiring to see him out there fighting, taking on a lot of guys younger than him and still wanting to win.”
He likes to do it and should continue as long as it matters. He’s out there with an iron hip and what he’s trying to do is very inspiring. You have been retired for a long time.
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