Murray ready to defend Italian Open title in Rome

ROME—The greatest stars of international tennis will descend on the Eternal City for the 74th edition of the Internazionali BNL d’Italia. The tournament takes place at the Foro Italico in the foreground of the Stadio Olimpico.

The prestigious tournament marks the start of the culmination of the clay court season, as the world’s greatest look to fine-tune their games in Rome before the year’s second major at Roland Garros begins in Paris.

World number one, Andy Murrary, will be the defending champion after not dropping a set in last year’s tournament before defeating the formidable Serbian Novak Djokovic in the final.  The Scot dismissed his opponent 6-3, 6-3 to claim his first Italian Open title and begin his ascent to the top of the sport.

Murray kicks-off his defence Tuesday evening against the mercurial Italian, Fabio Fognini, who had to overcome fellow countryman and wildcard Matteo Berrettini even to qualify for the first round of competition.

Despite the gulf in world ranking places between the two competitors, the fiery Fognini has a knack for raising his game for the greatest occasions. What greater occasion for the Sanremo native than in front of a home crowd, all craving an upset against the best player in the world.

Murray holds a narrow advantage in terms of previous meetings with Fognini, leading 3-2 on the head to head. However, in their last meeting on a clay court at the Davis Cup 2014 quarter-finals in Naples, the Italian completely outclassed Murray, winning in straight sets 6-3, 6-3, 6-4 to inspire Italy into the next round of the competition. If the Rome crowd can emulate the intimidating environment that Murray was faced with in Naples, then Fognini could well upset the odds yet again.

2017 has not got off to a good start for Murray, who recently crashed out of both the Monte Carlo Masters and Madrid Open in the early stages, losing matches in which the man of last year would have dug deep and found a result.

In fact, Murray said that he was “concerned” by his latest defeat, denying the fact that an elbow injury played a role in his lacklustre performance. 

The Scot is not the only one seemingly struggling in 2017. His opponent in last year’s final, Novak Djokovic, has not been at his best as he was forced to relinquish the four trophies he had won this time last year, following unsuccessful defences of his titles. The Serbian will be trying to kick-start the year in Rome as he takes on Brit Aljaž Bedene in his Round 1 match Tuesday afternoon.

However, all eyes will be on Murray as looks to banish his 2017 woes against Fognini, starting 21:00 local time.

World Number One, Andy Murray
Fabio Fognini