Andy Murray is hoping to welcome in his first week as a 30-year-old by defending his Rome Masters title.
Murray, the three-time major champion, turns 30 on Monday, but is fully focused on the task at hand and recovering from a disappointing loss to Borna Coric last week in Madrid.
The Scot isn’t too fussed about the new landmark, however, this may change should he defend his title at the Internazionali BNL D’Italia in Rome, the season’s fifth ATP World Tour Masters 1000 tournament.
“I was talking to my team about that a bit yesterday, and everyone sort of says, ‘Oh, when you’re 30 or 40, they are huge birthdays.’ I have never found that with any birthday,” Murray said during his pre-tournament press conference in Rome on Sunday.
Murray has been away from home for the past 15 birthday celebrations. The last time he remembers being around his family for a birthday was when he was 14. “I have always been travelling and never been around family or friends on birthdays. They don’t mean that much to me,” Murray said.
This year in Rome, the Scot will be trying to reach only his second tour-level final. Murray’s last tournament victory came when he won his 45th tour-level title at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships in February.
The World No 1 knows his past success in the Italian capital doesn’t guarantee him another good run this week, but he’s hopeful for another long stay ahead of the French Open beginning next Monday.
“If you perform well, the conditions can suit your game, you can have a good run. Hopefully, I can do that,” Murray said.
The court conditions will differ from Madrid, where the altitude – 667 metres above sea level – contributes to a lively ball. In sea-level Rome, “It’s much slower,” Murray said. “So it’s quite a different way of playing here. It’s more finding a way, I think, to adjust back to these conditions.”
Murray will face Italian Fabio Fognini, world ranked 29, in the second round. Fognini beat wild card and countryman Matteo Berrettini 6-1, 6-3 on Sunday.
Murray leads their head-to-head 3-2 and, winning their past two matches, he is aware of the fiery Italian’s pedigree on clay. Fognini was the only player to push eventual champion Rafael Nadal to three sets last week at the Mutua Madrid Open.
“[Fognini] is one of the better clay-court players, for sure. He obviously would be highly motivated, I would think, playing in Italy as well,” Murray said. “I have had some tough matches with him in the past, so it won’t be easy. I will definitely need to play well in that one to have a chance of winning.”
Fognini is hoping to capitalise on the disappointing form of Britain’s world number one Andy Murray when they meet in the second round of the Rome Masters on Tuesday.
Murray claimed his maiden Rome title with victory over Novak Djokovic in the Eternal City last year. However, the Scot, who suffered a surprising defeat at the hands of unseeded 20-year-old Croat Coric last week, has admitted his game on clay has gone awry – and Fognini wants to exploit this.
“It’s not a bad time to be meeting him, he’s not playing at his usual level. But to beat him, I’ll need a big hand from the (supporters on) centre court,” Fognini said.
Nadal confirmed his status as the tournament favourite when he ousted Djokovic in their Madrid semi-final to claim his first clay victory over the Serb in three years.
He then produced a convincing display against a battling Thiem in the final on Sunday to take his record on the surface to 15-0 this year, in the process moving up to fourth in the rankings ahead of Swiss rival Roger Federer.
Spain’s 14-time Grand Slam champion is now a strong favourite to claim his 10th French Open crown next month.
It already looks ominous for Murray’s hopes of defending his title, and Fognini has also given four-time Rome champion Djokovic, the defending French Open champion, the edge in Rome.
“On clay, he (Murray) is just a little inferior to Djokovic, given that he’s never won in Paris,” added the Italian.
Yet Fognini, who has never made it past the third round in Rome and has a win-loss record of 5-9 in the capital, has never forgotten exiting the tournament under a hail of criticism from his home crowd in 2014 following a heavy defeat to Lukas Rosol in the first round.
He added: “I’ve never had a good run in this tournament. I will never forget being whistled off the court when I was ranked 15th (in the world).”
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