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03 February 2013

Fognini ends 15-year drought for Italy


Photo: Ray GiubiloFabio Fognini (ITA)

TURIN, ITALY: Fabio Fognini defeated Ivan Dodig in a thrilling fifth rubber to send Italy through to the quarterfinals for the first time in 15 years after Croatia's Marin Cilic defeated Andreas Seppi in straight sets to draw the visitors level in the tie. Italy will play either Spain (in Italy) or Canada (in Canada) in the last eight.

Fognini lost the first set, which saw five breaks of serve, but came back to win 46 64 64 64 in two hours 43 minutes.

"It was a crazy victory, but everyone always says I'm crazy," Fognini said. "I'm extremely, extremely happy, because it was a great game, and also because it was for Italy and everything's different and more emotional - it wasn't just my victory, it was Italy's victory. I played with heart and obviously he was tired after two tough games, but everyone knows the Davis Cup is three days.

"I'm really happy because two nights ago I was in bed with a fever, I had a temperature of 38 degrees, but the staff were amazing, so thanks goes to them too and the whole team. In Davis Cup, everyone wins or everyone loses. I'm delighted that we've made history, that we've reached the quarterfinals after so many years."

It was a miserable birthday for Croatia captain Zeljko Krajan, who turned 34 today. "It was tough for Ivan to play the whole game at the same level after two really tough days," he said. "I'm disappointed that we lost for sure but we gave everything that we could. The guys really fought really hard and I'm really proud of them."

After the disappointment of Seppi's defeat, the pressure was on Fognini and he stormed into a 2-0 lead as he broke Dodig in the first game, much to the crowd's delight.

However, Dodig had troubled Seppi on the first day with his serve and he again proved potent, racking up three aces - of 17 in total in the match - to win his first game of the rubber, before breaking Fognini to level the set.

There was then another rapid exchange of breaks before Dodig took the seven game to love. That required an immediate response, from Fognini and he also held his service game to love. Dodig then racked up seven straight points on his way to three set points. He wasted the first two, but converted the third when Fognini hit into the net.

Both held to love in the opening two games of the second set before Fognini then showed the best and worst of himself. A great crosscourt forehand into the far corner had the crowd on its feet and gave him a 15-30 lead, but he then mishit a shot woefully, sending it into the lights.

Both had chances to break the other's service game and Fognini did so when a Dodig backhand landed wide. He then held his serve with a delightful forehand down the line securing him a 4-2 lead. The rest of the set went with serve and a volley at the net gave Fognini two set points. He wasted the first when he hit into the net but an ace saw him level the match.

Fognini was getting into his stride and the world No. 44 was playing some delightful shots. He made the breakthrough in the fifth game and only needed one of two break points as a Dodig backhand landed wide.

He earnt himself a set point with a brilliant backhand past Dodig's outstretched racket, and took a 2-1 lead in the match when the Croatian's effort landed long and wide. The momentum was most certainly with Fognini and he broke in the opening game of the fourth set, converting his third break with a backhand down the line which gave Dodig no chance.

Dodig broke back in the fourth game but Fognini broke again to leave the 25-year-old serving for the match.

With the crowd expectant, and cheering on its feet after every point, Fognini didn't disappoint, winning the match and the tie when Dodig's return went long.

"I'm beyond happy, and first and foremost for the lads," Italy captain Corrado Barazzutti said. "They're strong players and a real team, and they've shown that. This result deserves a lot of recognition, they've done it as a team and I'm delighted for them. It's been a long project, many years of hard work, but now we're getting fantastic results with fantastic guys.

"These are really important matches for them to grow. Fabio showed he has a lot of character. He has a lot of potential and I really hope he manages to play every week at that level, because that will push him the ranking to a position which he deserves with his talent. This is a great test of character and his character helped us pass the first round for the first time in so many years."

Cilic had played nearly seven hours of tennis over the past two days but showed little sign of tiredness as he won the battle of the countries' No. 1s 63 63 75 in two hours and 32 minutes to haul Croatia level at 2-2.

Seppi had a dismal day and had no response to Cilic's powerful serve, which saw the world No. 13 rack up an astonishing 15 aces on his way to victory and revenge for his Australian Open defeat to Seppi.

"It certainly didn't go how I wanted it to," Seppi said. "But a lot of credit goes to him, he served really well, and unfortunately i was below par. I didn't serve as well as I could. I tink I've caught a bit of the virus that's going round and at the beginning i felt a bit weak, didn't feel as good as i did in the first day.

"I had chances and I should have taken advantge of them, gone into the fourth and then anything could have happened. But unfortunately I didn't. I had to win that third set and then he would have got more tired in the fourth set. I was below pr without a doubt and there's regret that I didn't do what I wanted to on the court."

Cilic threatened to take an early lead as he racked up two break points on Seppi's service game, but he returned both wide and the Italian went on to take the game. In almost identical circumstances, Seppi also had a chance for an early advantage but wasted two break points as well, hitting both into the net.

Cilic broke in the very next game, with a superb forehand down the line, which had the Croatian bench on their feet in raucous delight. Seppi managed to rescue a set point on his serve and took the game with a backhand winner down the line. But it was just delaying the inevitable, as Cilic held to take the set.

Seppi was making too many unforced errors and he was made to pay again when a backhand into the net gifted Cilic another break of serve in the fifth game of the second set.

The Italian almost broke straight back but twice failed to convert. And his frustration was beginning to show as he flung his racket in disgust after hitting into the net following a long rally.

He took the next game to love much to the delight of the passionate home crowd, but that proved to be a false dawn as Cilic held his serve before breaking again, to take the set, when Seppi hit wide.

Seppi was struggling and Cilic had another break point early in the third but he returned long and that appeared to be the turning point. Seppi began improving and made the breakthrough in the seventh game when he stormed into a 0-40 lead. He wasted two of the break points but converted the third with a great crosscourt forehand which had the public on its feet.

Another forehand winner earned Seppi another break point and a set point in Cilic's next service game but the Croatian managed to hold and then break Seppi's serve again to level the set.

More errors from Seppi saw him waste several set points on Cilic's serve, and a more clinical Cilic took the match when he broke Seppi's serve to love.

To view the match statistics click on Live scores

Captain Corrado Barazutti (ITA) - 03/02/2013

Ivan Dodig (CRO) - 03/02/2013

Fabio Fognini (ITA) - 03/02/2013

Captain Zeljko Krajan (CRO) - 03/02/2013

Andreas Seppi (ITA) - 03/02/2013

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    Daniella Matar

    Daniella has worked in journalism in four different countries and interviewed sportspeople in five different languages. Before moving to Italy last year, she worked in England and France as well as Lebanon - where she ended up having a brief stint as a war reporter when the conflict with Israel broke out in 2006. Having grown up in London and begged for Wimbledon tickets every year, she still always gets a hankering for strawberries and cream whenever she sees a tennis match.





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