Murray, Bedene and Edmund make second-round exits in Rome, as Konta sets Venus Williams rematch
Andy Murray is among the British casualties at the Rome Masters as Johanna Conte prepares to take on Venus Williams
This time last year, Andy Murray arrived in Rome having reached the final of the Madrid Masters, and was about to go all the way to the title at the beautiful Foro Italico for the first time.
It was to be the start of the best season of his career, and he would lose just three more matches, one in the final of the French Open, before he swept to titles at Queen’s, Wimbledon, the Olympics, Beijing, Shanghai, Vienna, Paris and the World Tour Finals. It all earned him the No1 ranking.
What a contrast 2017 is proving to be. His fourth-round loss at the Australian Open looked like a mere blip in proceedings, having reaching the Doha final before then winning in Dubai. And it could be explained away by the revelation that he had contracted shingles along the way. He told the assembled media in Dubai that the illness was now behind him: He was fine—and even an exhilarating three-setter from an inspired Philipp Kohlschreiber in the Dubai quarter-finals seemed only to sharpen Murray’s tennis.
But come Indian Wells, Murray lost his opener against Vasek Pospisil, ranked 129, and then missed the Miami Masters, where he had won twice from four finals, due to an elbow injury. He admitted, after playing an exhibition in Zurich against Roger Federer, that it had been touch and go whether he would make it there, that he was still serving at only 80 percent strength.
Even so, his loss to Albert Ramos-Vinolas in Monte-Carlo was unexpected, even if his semi loss to the ever-improving Dominic Thiem in Barcelona was not.
But in Madrid, it was the nature of his loss that surprised: Murray seemed to lack energy, intensity and focus, and the errors flew. His comments afterwards were equally lack-lustre:
“I didn’t help myself sort of find a way into the match to start playing better. That was disappointing because, you know, you’re not always going to play your best tennis, but you can still find ways to make it difficult for your opponent, and I didn’t do that at all today.”
It was a statement that summed up another disappointing performance as he began his title defence in Rome, though he was certainly unlucky in his draw. His first opponent was the charismatic home hero, Fabio Fognini, who can set the court alight on his day—and this was his day. Perhaps Murray would have lost even with his usual intensity, but he again looked subdued and lacking energy.
He was afterwards at loss to explain his 6-2, 6-4 loss to the BBC:
“I’m just not playing good tennis and need to try to work out how to turn it around. I believe I will.
“The last couple of weeks have definitely been a struggle and a long way from where I’d like to be. There is no reason for it from my end.”
He will hope to bounce back at the climax of the clay season, the French Open, where he will be joined by coach Ivan Lendl.
But Murray will play no further part in Rome, where Novak Djokovic, the four-time champion and losing finalist to Murray last year, is the No2 seed.
The Serb’s first opponent put paid to another of the Britons in the draw, Aljaz Bedene, though the No57 ranked man has been in some fine clay form this year, and it showed in the early stages of his hugely challenging second-round match.
Bedene won three Challengers this year, two on clay, and came through qualifying to reach the final in Budapest, beating Ivo Karlovic before facing world No14 Lucas Pouille.
He even took Milos Raonic to a third-set tie-break in Istanbul, and in Rome, he challenged Djokovic throughout a tough opening set before losing it in a tie-breaker.
There were signs of fatigue in the concluding 6-2 set, but it was another solid performance from the Briton as he heads to Roland Garros, where last year he beat Pablo Carreno Busta on his way to the third round—where he faced Djokovic again.
So it was up to Kyle Edmund, the youngest of the three Britons at 22 years of age, to fly the flag in Rome and he started his campaign well against the No51 ranked Joao Sousa, winning 6-3, 6-4, in his Rome debut: 12 aces and 12 forehands helped his cause.
But he too had an unlucky draw. He avoided facing a seed but picked up Juan Martin del Potro, a former world No4 and Grand Slam champion who is steadily making his way back up the rankings after yet further wrist surgery. Indeed the big Argentine did not play either Rome or Roland Garros last year.
But here he was already back up to No34 in the rankings and had beaten No10 seed Grigor Dimitrov in a thrilling three-setter. Edmund, making his debut in Rome, was up to the task in the early stages of the match, exchanging clean service games and big forehands with the master of both skills. The Briton saved break points in the third game, and they edged to 3-3 before del Potro did convert his break opportunity as an Edmund backhand went wide.
That was not the end of it, though: Edmund levelled for 5-5, only for del Potro to break once more and grab the set, 7-5 in a few minutes short of the hour.
In the second set, Edmund had plenty of success on his first serve, but his problem was that he got far too few of them into play: just 38 percent. Del Potro made hay to break twice, and although Edmund pulled one of those breaks back, it was not enough. The Argentine advanced, 6-4, after an hour and three-quarters, and will next face Kei Nishikori, who put out David Ferrer after the Spaniard won his career 700th match in his opener.
In the same half, seven-time champion and No4 seed Rafael Nadal had an easy path to the third round when his opponent, Nicolas Almagro, retired at 0-3 down in the opening set with a knee injury.
British interest continues in the men’s doubles with Jamie Murray and partner Bruno Soares, and No5 seed Johanna Konta, sailed into the third round for the loss of just three games, though the first two took almost 20 minutes.
Konta next faces, for the fourth time in her career, Venus Williams, who she has beaten in their last three meetings, most recently on the British woman’s way to the Miami Premier title in March.
Her win provides a much-needed boost after a slow transition to clay, where she is much less at home than on the hard courts. She made a second-round exit at the Stuttgart Open last month and lost in the first round in Madrid, in a gruelling three-setter that extended into the early hours of the second day. Last year, she made the third round in Rome but lost in the first round of Roland Garros, so has the chance to make decent points before the move to home and to grass this summer.