Italian Open: Fognini beats Murray, Etcheverry sets up Djokovic clash

Fabio Fognini in action against Andy Murray at the Italian Open in Rome. AP

Fabio Fognini edged out Andy Murray in a battle of veteran tennis dads to reach the Italian Open second round on Wednesday.

Fognini, ranked outside of the top 100 for the first time in 14 years, came through 6-4, 4-6, 6-4 against his fellow 35-year-old.

Former number seven Fognini delighted his home crowd with a controlled final set serving display in which he conceded just three points.


Italian Open: Stan Wawrinka breezes past Ilya Ivashka in straight sets after rain causes delayed start


Madrid Open: Andy Murray crashes out in first round after defeat to qualifier Andrea Vavassori

It was his fifth win in nine career meetings with Murray but just his third on the tour in 2023.

The Italian maverick, like Murray a father of three, fired 46 winners past the former world number one and three-time major winner in a first round tie which stretched to almost three hours.

“For sure I’m happy because coming back from injury is never easy, especially at our age. But winning here in Rome against a really big player like Andy,” said Fognini, who has been troubled by a foot injury.

“Now it’s important to recover. It’s going to be tricky and a nice question to my mind if I will recover well. But I just want to enjoy this night and going home with this victory.”

Next up for Fognini is a clash with Miomir Kecmanovic while 42nd-ranked Murray, the 2016 champion in Rome, licks his wounds after celebrating his first title since 2019 at the Aix-en-Provence Challenger on Sunday.

Novak Djokovic will begin his bid to retain the Italian Open title against Tomas Etcheverry after the 61st-ranked Argentine beat Luca Van Assche of France in the first round 7-6 (9/7), 6-3.

Djokovic comes into the tournament he has won six times recovering from an elbow injury and set to lose top spot in the world rankings to Carlos Alcaraz.

Alcaraz just needs to play a match in the Italian capital to return to the world number one ranking ahead of the French Open which starts later this month.

Djokovic won his record-equalling 22nd Grand Slam at the Australian Open in January.

However, he missed the American hard-court swing in March due to his refusal to be vaccinated.

The 35-year-old has endured a tough start to the European clay-court season, being eliminated in the last 16 at the Monte Carlo Masters, in the quarter-finals at Banja Luka and then pulling out of Madrid.

Wawrinka advances

Veteran Stan Wawrinka will face 26th seed Grigor Dimitrov in the last 64, the three-time Grand Slam winner easing past Ilya Ivashka 6-4, 6-2.

Wawrinka, 38, and playing in the Italian capital for the 18th time, hit 26 winners and saved the one break point he faced.

“I was ready for it. I am playing well. It was a good first match and I am really happy to get through again,” said Wawrinka, who was runner-up to Djokovic in Rome in 2008.

The former world number three now down at 84 in the rankings added: “I have been working hard to get to this level. This year I am playing much better, but I need to win more matches.”

In the women’s event, Lesia Tsurenko won an all-Ukrainian clash, beating Elina Svitolina 6-4, 6-3.

The 28-year-old Svitolina, returning to the tour from maternity leave, says the Russian invasion of her country means her career now has greater significance than in her pre-motherhood days when she was number three in the world and swept up 16 titles.

“I want to make sure Ukraine is still in the news,” said 540th-ranked Svitolina who is married to French tennis star Gael Monfils.

“Playing tournaments, trying to organise events on the side, connecting with people around the events — that’s really important.

“The war continues, so we need to continue helping people.”

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