Andy Murray and Fabio Fognini go head-to-head on Tuesday as they battle for a spot in the third round of the Shanghai Masters.
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Murray is continuing his comeback from hip surgery while Fognini is looking to finish off the season by qualifying for the year-end Nitto ATP Finals for the first time in his career.
Murray took another big step in his return from injury on Monday, battling back from a set down to defeat Argentine qualifier, Juan Ignacio Londero in his Shanghai Masters opener.
Competing in Shanghai for the first time since he claimed a third title at the tournament in 2016, Murray initially struggled against Londero, but he eventually grew more comfortable with the pace of the court, pulling off a satisfactory 2-6 6-2 6-3 victory. The former world No. 1 struck 10 aces and won 66% of points on his first serve, but he did drop serve three times in a match littered with break points. The Scot gave up 10 chances, while creating 13 opportunities on Londero’s serve, breaking four times in two-hour 18-minute victory.
Having fought his way to a 5-2 lead in the final set, Murray faced one final bit of resistance as he served for the match at 5-3, facing two break back points at 15-40, but he won four straight points to close out the match on his first match point.
“The court is by far the fastest conditions that I have played in since I came back. I really struggled with that early on. I was mistiming the ball. I felt quite slow on the court, and he was pretty much dictating all of the points,” said Murray. “I managed kind of early on in the second set to start putting a bit more on my ball, going for my shots a little bit more and just trying to hit through the court a bit more, get him on the defensive, which I did pretty well.”
Murray is now 4-4 at tour-level since his return from injury, and will now attempt to win consecutive matches for the second straight tournament when he plays Fognini on Tuesday. He lost his first two singles matches to Richard Gasquet (Cincinnati) and Tennys Sandgren (Winston-Salem), but he defeated Sandgren in his next tournament in Zhuhai, scoring his first win after surgery (lost to Alex De Minaur in the second round), before making the quarter finals in Beijing, beating world No. 13 and US Open semi-finalist, Matteo Berrettini and fellow Brit, Cameron Norrie before losing to Dominic Thiem in the quarter finals.
The three-time Shanghai champion had feared his career might be over after the Australian Open due to the persistent pain in his hip, but following successful hip surgery at the end of January, he returned to the tour in June, and has slowly made progress in his comeback. Murray initially started off playing doubles, but he is now beginning to gain momentum on a singles court.
Can he score the biggest win yet in his comeback by beating world No. 12, Fabio Fognini on Tuesday?
Fognini is right in the mix for qualification into the season-ending Nitto ATP Finals, as he is currently ranked 9th in the race, just behind eight placed Alexander Zverev, with the top eight set to converge in London for the season-ending showpiece.
The Italian got his Beijing campaign underway with a comfortable 6-4 6-2 victory over American, Sam Querrey, dropping just nine points on serve and facing no break points in the 63-minute dispatch.
Fognini is looking to reach the third round of the Shanghai Masters for just the third time in his career, having previously gone that far in 2013 and 2017. He has never been past that stage.
The Italian was nowhere near being a candidate for Nitto ATP Finals qualification, after the first quarter of the year, as he had crawled to a 4-8 win-loss record, but he launched himself into reckoning with a spectacular title run in Monte Carlo, beating Rafael Nadal on his way to claiming his maiden Masters 1000 title.
He has since been steady, if not spectacular since then, making quarter finals in Hamburg, Los Cabos, Montreal and Beijing, and reaching the Round of 16 in Madrid, Rome and Roland Garros.
Fognini faces Murray for the eighth time on Tuesday, with the Italian looking to even their series, and more importantly, take another step towards qualification for London.
“I have always had tough matches with him,” said Murray. “He’s not an easy guy to play against. Unbelievably talented guy. Good hand skills. Moves well. A little bit up and down sometimes in his matches, but he’s playing really well.”
It’s definitely Murray’s biggest test since his comeback, as Fognini possess the dynamism and the array of strokes to make this very difficult for the Scot, and if the Italian brings his A-game to the table, which to be fair, is not a given, he will likely be too strong for the former world No. 1.
Andy Murray vs Fabio Fognini is live from Shanghai on Tuesday, 8 October from 5:30pm local time/ 10:30am BST