Defending champion Andy Murray will play Steve Johnson in the quarter-finals of the singles tournament at Rio 2016 after an incredibly nervy 6-1, 2-6, 6-3 victory over Fabio Fognini of Italy on Thursday (11 August). The world number two, who lost to the same opponent in straight sets during a Davis Cup quarter-final on clay in Naples two years ago, looked on course for another emphatic triumph only to almost fall victim to a stunning comeback on centre court at the Olympic Tennis Centre.
Just as in the previous round against Juan Monaco, Murray wasted little time in imposing his dominance and took the very first break point on offer. He resisted some pressure on his own serve to establish a comfortable lead and claimed three more break points courtesy of a double fault from 2011 French Open quarter-finalist Fognini, who only avoided an embarrassing opening bagel after fending off three set points and producing an impressive backhand winner.
It was too late to turn the tide, however, with Murray wrapping up the first set in less than half an hour. Fognini managed to hold serve in the opening game of the second, but lost the next to love and was then broken once again. He showed spirit to hit straight back and then sensationally managed to turn the match on its head by breaking to level the scores at one apiece.
Perhaps stunned by the shocking nature of such an unlikely rally, Murray, who has won two of four matches against Fognini on the ATP tour in Monaco and Valencia, continued to looked rattled at the start of the deciding set and gave up a fourth successive break after a truly titanic battle in which he spurned a number of chances to stem the tide.
Game number three was a similarly epic affair as the reigning Wimbledon champion desperately applied some pressure, but ultimately he just could not prevent Fognini winning his eighth game in a row to take a commanding 3-0 lead. A visibly frustrated Murray then narrowly managed to end that run at 40-30 on his own serve and the momentum shifted once again when the Italian began to lose his newfound composure and sent an attempted forehand winner crashing into the net on break point.
Now it was Fognini's turn to look nervous and only a fifth double fault of the match prevented Murray from holding to love at 3-3. He eased to another break after several more unforced errors and made it five games in a row. A truly anxious victory was sealed when a glorious backhand was followed by Fognini sending a forehand long.
American Johnson, currently in men's semi-final doubles action alongside Jack Sock against Horia Tecau and Florin Mergea of Romania, progressed to the last eight of the singles competition with victories over Darian King, Gastao Elias and Evgeny Donskoy. He is currently ranked at 22 by the ATP and lost his only previous meeting with Murray 6-2, 6-4 on a hard surface at the 2015 Shanghai Masters.