Andy Murray was halted by failing light as Great Britain’s Davis Cup team ended the first day of their quarter-final against Italy trailing 1-0.
James Ward battled for three hours and nine minutes in Naples before falling to a 6-4, 2-6, 6-4, 6-1 defeat by Italian No 1 Fabio Fognini. Murray then won the first set against Andreas Seppi 6-4 and saved four set points with darkness falling to level at 5-5 in the second when play was called off. He will have to finish off the match today before potentially teaming up with Colin Fleming in the doubles, with the reverse singles to come tomorrow.
On Thursday there was doubt whether Murray would take to the court at all as he battled a virus, so a rain delay of more than two hours to start the first day, along with the long first match, gave him valuable extra recovery time. But a significant amount of water seeped under the covers at the Tennis Club Napoli, and Murray survived a worrying moment during only the second point when a slide on the soggy clay ended with him almost rolling his ankle.
Seppi, ranked 34th, is an extremely solid citizen and Murray had to save a break point in the fourth game before edging ahead 4-3 when his opponent erred on a simple volley. The crowd were giving raucous support to Seppi and that seemed to affect Murray in the second set as he was broken for 4-2. He hit straight back and pressed hard for another break in the ninth game only for Seppi to save three break points. And the Italian had his chance to level at one set all, but Murray held firm to stay in the ascendancy heading into what is likely to be a pivotal second day.
On paper the first contest was a mismatch, with Fognini ranked 13th – and better than that on clay – while Ward has never been in the top 100 and currently sits 161st. But he has consistently performed well above his ranking in Davis Cup and his superb win over the United States’ Sam Querrey in February was the key to Britain’s first World Group victory in 28 years.
The Londoner made a flying start, winning the first three games as Fognini, a volatile character, became distracted by the state of the court.
But Ward could not cement his advantage as the Italian reeled off five games in a row on his way to the opening set.
The British No 3 responded with another three games at the start of the second and, although Fognini broke back once again, Ward finally took his sixth break point to lead 4-2. And another break, clinched with a drop shot, gave him the set, after which Fognini took a lengthy medical timeout to have his ribs taped.
The Italian did not look at all comfortable, but he gained a crucial break at the start of the third set. Ward’s big chance came with two break points as Fognini served for the set, but he could not get either of his returns back into play and the Italian ran away with the fourth.
Ward said: “I played well; I had to play well to play a guy like Fabio on clay who, for me and I’d say most people, is top three in the world at the moment. His record this year is unbelievable. I went out there with no pressure and I thought I played a high level. It was very tight for the first three sets.”
Fognini said: “It was a really tough match. It’s a really important point for us.”