Andy Murray survived a scare from Fabio Fognini as the defending champion scraped his way into the Wimbledon last 16 along with title rival Rafael Nadal on Friday.
Murray didn’t have it all his own way against Fognini, but the world number one eventually subdued the eccentric Italian 6-2, 4-6, 6-1, 7-5 to secure a 10th successive appearance in the Wimbledon fourth round.
In a tetchy Centre Court clash, Murray complained about Fognini taking too long between points as the 28th seed, who was given a point penalty for a visible obscenity, shrugged off a mid-match injury to push the Scot to the brink.
Murray had to save five set points to avoid being forced into a deciding set, reeling off five successive games to secure his 105th win on grass and remain on course for a titanic semi-final showdown against Nadal.
The 30-year-old, who faces France’s Benoit Paire for a place in the quarter-finals, is bidding to become the first Briton to successfully defend a Grand Slam title since Fred Perry at Wimbledon from 1934-1936.
“Obviously the end of the match was tense. It was a very up and down match,” Murray said.
“I didn’t feel like it was the best tennis, but I managed to get through. I was pleased to get off in four sets.”
Having won his 10th French Open crown without dropping a set last month, Nadal has made the switch from clay to grass with ease.
His 6-1, 6-4, 7-6 (7/3) win against Russian 30th seed Karen Khachanov equalled the Spaniard’s personal record of 28 successive sets won at Grand Slams, a blistering streak dating back to this year’s Australian Open final.
Nadal’s second and most recent Wimbledon title came in 2010 and the 15-time major winner hasn’t been past the fourth round for six years.
But world number two Nadal is in formidable form heading into only his second fourth round tie in his last five visits to Wimbledon.
His opponent is 16th seed Gilles Muller, who defeated Aljaz Bedene 7-6 (7/4), 7-5, 6-4 to reach the last 16 for the first time at the age of 34.
“I played fantastic for a set and a half but it got tougher after that. He started to hit stronger so I was happy to get through in three sets,” Nadal said.
Former US Open finalist Kei Nishikori had hoped to finally advance past the fourth round at Wimbledon after years of under-achievement.
But the world number nine didn’t even reach the last 16 as he was over-powered 6-4, 7-6 (7/3), 3-6, 6-3 by Spanish 18th seed Roberto Bautista Agut.
Nishikori’s third round exit means Wimbledon remains the only Grand Slam he has failed to make the quarter-finals.
“It’s not easy. I don’t have good results on grass. I have got to work on it every year,” Nishikori said.
Former US Open champion Marin Cilic advanced to face Bautista Agut with a 6-4, 7-6 (7/3), 6-4 win against American 26th seed Steve Johnson.
With former England captain David Beckham watching from the Royal Box, former world number one Victoria Azarenka defeated British wild card Heather Watson 3-6, 6-1, 6-4.
Competing in her first Grand Slam since taking a year off to have her first child — son Leo — in December, Azarenka was caught out as Watson made a fast start to her attempt to reach the last 16 for the first time.
But the two-time Australian Open champion stepped on the gas to keep alive her attempt to emulate Evonne Goolagong, who was the last Wimbledon mum to lift the Venus Rosewater Dish in 1980.
– Flamboyant –
Only Goolagong, Margaret Court and Kim Clijsters have won a Grand Slam singles title after having a child.
Next up for Azarenka, who reached the semi-finals in 2011 and 2012, is world number two Simona Halep.
Halep, beaten in the French Open final last month, eased through with a 6-4, 7-6 (9/7) win against China’s Peng Shuai.
British sixth seed Johanna Konta showed why she is the new bookmakers’ favourite for the title with a 6-4, 6-1 rout of Greek world number 101 Maria Sakkari.
With two-time champion Petra Kvitova and third seed Karolina Pliskova eliminated, Konta hopes to become the first British woman to win Wimbledon since Virginia Wade in 1977.
French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko made the last 16 for the first time with a 7-5, 7-5 win against Camila Giorgi.
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