TURIN, ITALY: Andreas Seppi ground out victory over Ivan Dodig to draw Italy level with Croatia in the Davis Cup after Marin Cilic overcame a gallant performance from Paolo Lorenzi in five sets to give the visitors the lead.
Seppi, who had won all three of his previous meetings with Dodig, won 62 67 64 64 in 2 hours 59 minutes. It was a tougher victory than expected for Seppi, who has risen to a career-high ranking of No. 18, 41 places above Dodig.
"It wasn't a perfect game, but it was a good game," Seppi said. "I still think I had a good game, he grew a lot in the service, and he put me in a lot of diffuclty with that.
"But I was good at the end of the third and fourth to be aggressive and finish the match. It's always hard when you have the chance to serve for the match and then your opponent gets the break."
Seppi knew he had to win so as not to leave Italy with a mountain to climb over the next two days and he started strongly, breaking in the first game. The Italian No. 1 had already wasted two break points but he converted the third as Dodig hit a forehand long.
Seppi broke again in the fifth game and went on to take the set as he seemed to be heading to a comfortable victory. However, he struggled in the second set to deal with Dodig's power and the Croatian won nine successive points, as he broke and held to love to take a 4-1 lead.
That seemed to galvanise Seppi, who broke back and managed to force a tiebreak. But the Italian made too many errors and Dodig took the tiebreak 6-2 to level the match.
The third set went with serve until the final game when Seppi squeezed a winner down the line to break Dodig's serve. There was again little to separate the pair in the fourth set until the seventh game when Seppi held to love and then broke Dodig's serve, sealing the game with a stunning backhand crosscourt winner.
That left Seppi serving for the match much to the delight of the thousands who had remained for over seven hours. However, Dodig broke straight back when Seppi sent a backhand wide.
But, sensing victory, Seppi attacked and racked up three match points. He wasted two, but won the match following a double fault from Dodig.
"Dodig played above his level today, better than we expected him too," Italy captain Corrado Barazzutti said. "Not only was he stronger but he also risked a lot - you can see that from
the fact he double faulted on the last point! I think Andreas played a great match.
"Paolo had an exceptional match. He really showed what we all know he can do. And it wasn't that Cilic was playing badly, he's a player who deserves to be in the top 10 and you could see that today."
In the opening rubber, world No. 13 Cilic took 3 hours 43 minutes to win 61 67(6) 46 63 62 against the 31-year-old Lorenzi, who was a late replacement for Fabio Fognini.
"I played really well," Lorenzi said. "I tried to give my maximum, but it wasn't enough in the end. But I tried and I think I did well. It's always very emotional and amazing to play for Italy.
"I didn't expect to go 6-1 down in the first set. I knew I could play well, but unfortunately I started a bit slowly. I gave everything. There are small things which need to be worked on but overall I'm very happy."
Fognini was forced to skip the opening rubber with flu, handing Lorenzi - who is due to play in Saturday's doubles - his second Davis Cup singles match.
Lorenzi, who at 61 is ranked 48 places below Cilic, put on a spirited performance, backed by a passionate home crowd and threatened an upset when he took a 2-1 lead. But the Croatian No. 1 fought back to level the match and went on to claim his sixth victory in his past seven singles rubbers in the Davis Cup.
Few would have foretold the intensity of the match after the first set. Cilic broke twice to take a commanding lead and although Lorenzi saved two set points, Cilic converted the third. Lorenzi did not let his head go down and he continued making Cilic fight for every point, to the delight of the home crowd.
However, two missed opportunities in the second set almost cost him dearly. Lorenzi had three break points at 3-2 up in the second set, but Cilic saved them all and went on to take the game. Worse was to come for Lorenzi in the 10th game. Cilic made a couple of rare errors, sending two shots long to hand the Italian a set point, but he failed again to record his first break of the match.
Lorenzi failed to convert three set points in the tiebreak, thanks in part to two aces from Cilic, but he leveled the match when the Croatian's return landed wide.
Lorenzi broke immediately in the third set as, with the game at deuce, Cilic uncharacteristically smashed into the tramlines before sending another shot into almost exactly the same place.
The rest of the set went with serve but Cilic missed two break points in the final game and Lorenzi took a 2-1 lead with a crosscourt volley, as the crowd roared its approval. Both continued to fight for every point in the fourth set. Cilic was on the verge of breaking Lorenzi in the sixth game but the Italian saved three game points before winning it when he raced from the back of the court to volley over the net, catching Cilic by surprise.
However, Cilic broke in Lorenzi's next service game and held, levelling the match with an ace. And the Croatian's experience in playing singles rubbers away from home told as he broke twice in the final set, before holding his serve to love to win the match.
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Marin Cilic (CRO) - 01/02/2013
Paolo Lorenzi (ITA) - 01/02/2013
Andreas Seppi (ITA) - 01/02/2013