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03 February 2014

Italy break away team curse


MATCH REPORT

By Ed Stocker

Photo: Sergio LlameraTeam Italy celebrate

No one can deny the heart that Argentina gave during a tough Davis Cup by BNP Paribas tie with Italy in the seaside resort of Mar del Plata.

And no one can accuse the Argentinean home supporters of not having enough passion. But it couldn't stop Italy winning to go through to the quarterfinals for only the second time since 1998, breaking a poor run of away form.

Italy's number one, Fabio Fognini, is quite a character. He swaggers his way around the court, gesticulates wildly, and plays his tennis almost casually. But the world number 15 came through for his team, stepping up to the challenge of playing - and winning - three rubbers over three days.

After he came off court on the final day after Italy won 3-1, he was wincing, clearly in need of a much-needed rest, particularly after his marathon doubles game on the second day with partner Simone Bolelli that lasted almost four hours.

"I proved a lot," the Italian said. "I played really well in the first match. Yesterday [Saturday] was tough but with Simone we played well and today [Sunday] I am really pleased because I improved a lot mentally."

The atmosphere in the stadium over the three days had been electric and occasionally heated, helped by the large numbers of people that flock to the town over the summer months for the beaches and nightlife. The stadium had been awash with the light blue and white colours of the Argentinean flags and - just like football matches here - there was a dedicated fan base that led the cheers, complete with percussion and a trumpet player.

Indeed, perhaps the intimidating atmosphere got to 29-year-old Andreas Seppi, from South Tyrol, who took the first set of the first rubber against  Carlos Berlocq - among the most popular figures with the crowd - before the Argentinean player clawed it back, as Seppi's game fell apart, to win 46 60 62 61.

It seemed after the initial rubber that Argentina would continue its fine tradition of never missing a quarterfinal since returning to the World Group in 2002. But Fognini then eased to victory over Juan Monaco in straight sets, 75 62 62.

Teaming up with Bolelli in the doubles the next day, the pair proved too good for their Argentinean opponents, winning 67(6) 76(8) 76(3) 64 in a close encounter. Then Fognini sealed the deal with his 76(5) 46 61 64 over Carlos Berlocq on Sunday in the first of the reverse rubbers, the last of which was never played.

The two teams are now staring at very different prospects. Argentina will have to battle to stay in the World Group in September. Italy, meanwhile, will play a home quarterfinal at the start of April, when they will face a Great Britain team that overcame USA in the first round.

Italy's captain Corrado Barazzutti was confident that his team could progress to the semifinals, although he admitted it wouldn't be easy.

"It's a tough match because Murray is one of the best players in the world," he explained.

Argentina, despite sitting fourth in the current Davis Cup rankings, isn't the team it used to be.

Former world No. 3 David Nalbandian retired at the end of last year and has left a gaping hole. How team captain Martin Jaite must have wanted the former player - at the stadium every day in Mar del Plata - to pick up a racquet for the team. With world No. 4 Juan Martin Del Potro making himself unavailable too, the team was clearly debilitated.

After the clash, team captain Jaite was doing his best to stay positive. "For me it's an honour to be captain of this team," he said, praising the fighting spirit of his players.

But he refused to be drawn into commenting on whether Del Potro would be back later in the year. "It's not my decision," he added with a smile.

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    • Fabio Fognini (ITA)Fabio Fognini (ITA)
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    • Carlos Berlocq (ARG)Fabio Fognini (ITA)
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