NAPLES, ITALY: Andy Murray saved four set points against Andreas Seppi in fading light to ensure that it is he who will return in front on Saturday morning as the unfinished second singles rubber of the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas quarterfinal between Great Britain and Italy resumes.
After Fabio Fognini had earlier given the hosts a 1-0 lead with a hard-fought 64 26 64 61 victory against James Ward in a tie which had its start delayed by more than two hours due to heavy rain, the day ended with Murray leading Seppi 64 5-5 after a drama-filled last game as the sun went down over the Tennis Club Napoli.
Murray and Seppi will return to the court at 10:30am local time (08:30am GMT) to resume their match, with the doubles rubber to start no more than two hours after the singles rubber concludes.
When Murray and Seppi started their match at around 5:40pm local time on Friday, both were aware that they were unlikely to finish proceedings before sunset on a clay court which was playing very slow after the wet conditions in the morning.
If Murray needed any reminder of how tough the heavy surface was to play on, it came in the second point of the match when he almost took a tumble over his ankle when pushed several metres behind the baseline.
However, the World No. 8 shrugged it off and gained confidence in his movement as the set went on, clinching the early break for 4-3 and then closing the set out with a trademark forehand pass.
Murray may have had slight hopes at this point of quickly winning the next two sets before darkness, they were quickly dashed as Seppi, ranked No. 34, did not crumble. Frustrations began to show from the British No 1 as he lost serve at 2-3 after a double fault and a netted backhand slice, although he later recovered the break for 4-4.
With light quickly fading, Murray was clearly unhappy about having to serve to stay in the set at 4-5, complaining that he could not see the ball. What followed was 16 minutes of drama. Murray saved four set points before he finally ended a remarkable game with a putaway volley. He could not have marched off the court quicker.
“Andy saving set points is really important for us moving into tomorrow,” said British captain Leon Smith. “It feels like Andy’s obviously in the driving set at a set up. He’s got a little bit more momentum going coming back from a break down. I feel good about it and very proud of how Andy handled the whole thing actually.”
Considering pessimistic forecasts earlier in the day, it was a significant enough achievement to finish the opening rubber. There may be 148 places in the world rankings separating world No. 13 Fognini and Ward, ranked No. 161, but the British No. 2 yet again raised his game in this competition, providing a stiff challenge for his Italian opponent.
With the start of the match delayed, the players emerged to a court which was not in perfect condition after extensive work from the groundstaff to clear lying water. It seemed to distract Fognini in the early stages as he quickly went 3-0 down.
After some words from his captain Corrado Barattuzzi, Fognini focused on the task in hand and recovered the break at 33 before taking control of the rallies to break again and go on to take the first set.
Once again, however, his concentration dipped and Ward broke early in the second set. As Fognini showed his frustrations by slamming his racket into the ground, Ward was the more consistent player against his streaky opponent before breaking again for the set with a perfect drop shot.
Fognini was struggling physically at this point and took a medical timeout to have his rib area re-taped. The delay in play seemed to work in his favour as he came out and got the instant break as Ward hit wide. Despite facing a number of break points throughout the third set, he managed to continually hold before serving the set out with the serve and volley play before letting out a roar of relief.
The fourth set was plain sailing for the local favourite. An early break broke Ward’s spirit and Fognini raced through the remainder of the match, playing a nice drop volley to seal the win on his first match point to clinch victory in three hours and nine minutes.
“I feel a little bit tired but that’s normal,” said Fognini. “I had one week off after Miami for this pain. Hopefully everything is going to be in the good way. I will try to recover 100 per cent and if not, for sure I am not going to risk myself.”
If Fognini does decide he is feeling up to it, Barattuzzi will field him alongside Simone Bolelli for the doubles rubber. Colin Fleming will be one of the British players across the net, but Smith will not decide on whether to partner him with Murray or Ross Hutchins until the conclusion of the second rubber.
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Captain Corrado Barazzutti (ITA) - 04/04/2014
Fabio Fognini (ITA) - 04/04/2014
Captain Leon Smith (GBR) - 04/04/2014