Fognini outlasts Murray in 3 sets at Italian Open

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ROME — Fabio Fognini edged fellow 35-year-old Andy Murray in a nearly three-hour battle in the opening round of the Italian Open on Wednesday.

Given a wild card entry after a month out with an injured foot, Fognini hit more than twice as many winners as Murray (49-24) in a 6-4, 4-6, 6-4 win on Campo Centrale.

Murray was coming off his first title in three years after he won an ATP Challenger event in southern France over the weekend for his first tournament victory since 2019 — and first on clay since 2016.

But Fognini’s crafty shot-making proved the difference as the Italian produced a series of drop-shot winners that were so effective Murray didn’t even attempt to run them down.

Murray was also left fuming after protesting a linesman’s call late in the first set, which gave Fognini a 5-3 advantage. Murray pointed to the mark on the red clay and told the chair umpire that it was clearly out.

“How can you see that ball from there being in? How is it possible?” Murray said. “You know you got that wrong.”

After the match was over, Murray had more words for the chair umpire, while Fognini wrote on a camera lens, “It’s not over.”

“I still like playing these type of matches,” said Fognini, who improved to 5-4 in his career against Murray, the 2016 champion in Rome.

Another veteran who advanced earlier was Stan Wawrinka, who wasted little time securing a 6-2, 6-4 win over Ilya Ivashka after the start of play was delayed for 90 minutes due to rain.

At age 38, Wawrinka is the oldest man in the tournament but he dominated Ivashka by also hitting more than twice as many winners as his opponent to close it out in little more than an hour.

“This year I am playing much better, but I need to win more matches. That is what I am missing a bit, the confidence to win more matches,” said Wawrinka, who had two surgeries on his left foot in 2021 and two operations on his left knee in 2017. “But in general the level is great.”

Wawrinka, a three-time Grand Slam champion, next faces 26th-seeded Grigor Dimitrov, with the winner potentially meeting top-ranked Novak Djokovic in the third round.

“My dream is to win another trophy, another tournament,” Wawrinka said. “Of course I’m getting older, it’s getting more and more difficult. The passion and the love for the sport is still there; that’s why I keep pushing myself.”

Djokovic, who has a first-round bye, will open against Tomas Martin Etcheverry, who advanced with a 7-6 (7), 6-3 win over 18-year-old Luca Van Assche, the youngest player in the top 100 of the rankings at No. 85.

Etcheverry reached clay finals in Santiago, Chile, and Houston earlier this year.

Also advancing on the red clay of the Foro Italico were Alexander Bublik, Cristian Garin, Marton Fucsovics and Sebastian Baez.

Australian qualifier Thanasi Kokkinakis was leading Jaume Munar 4-2 in the first set when his Spanish opponent retired due to lower back pain.

Kokkinakis will next face local favorite Jannik Sinner.

Arthur Fils, another rising 18-year-old French player, beat fellow qualifier Juan Manuel Cerundolo 6-1, 1-6, 6-4 for his first Masters 1000 victory, setting up a meeting with Holger Rune.

Wu Yibing of China rallied past French veteran Richard Gasquet 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 for his first tour win on clay.

In women’s action, Lesia Tsurenko eliminated two-time champion Elina Svitolina in all-Ukrainian matchup.

Sloane Stephens beat Nadia Podoroska 6-4, 6-1 and next meets 14th-seeded Victoria Azarenka.

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