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31 January 2014

Argentina level with Italy after first day


By Ed Stocker

Photo: Sergio LlameraCarlos Berlocq (ARG)

MAR DEL PLATA, ARGENTINA: Neither team could claim the upper hand on the opening day of the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas between home-nation Argentina and Italy in the resort town of Mar del Plata. Both teams took a point each over the two singles rubbers, leaving the tie neck-and-neck.

The vocal Argentinean crowd - told to stop making noise on several occasions by the match umpires - had plenty to cheer in the opening clash between Italian number two Andreas Seppi and Carlos "Charly" Berlocq.

Initially the rubber looked like it was heading towards a home upset as Seppi dominated the first set, taking advantage of a sluggish start from his Argentinean opponent, before Berlocq turned things around in the last three sets, finding more power and better angles, winning 46 60 62 61.

Juan Monaco - who nursed a wrist injury at the end of last year and has slipped down the world rankings - fared less well against 26-year-old Fabio Fognini, the highest ranked player that either team fielded, losing in straight sets 75 62 62 the first time the Italian had won on the four occasions that they have now played each other.

The difference between the two players in the opening two hour 36-minute rubber was obvious in the number of unforced errors that each player committed: Seppi's 46, compared to 22 from Berlocq.

"I lost a little bit of my rhythm and wasn't able to hit a lot of winners," said the Italian. "I missed a lot, for sure, so it wasn't the best match."

Despite the early win, Berlocq refused to get ahead of himself, saying that there was a long way to go in the tie, as the result of the second rubber was to prove.

 "I was surprised by the amount of people that came to support us, an extra plus when there are difficult periods of play," said Berlocq.

"We're happy, motivated and with the same desire as always - but there's still a lot left to play."

Both players said the conditions were difficult with a sea breeze making the ball hard to read. After the morning started with clear, sunny skies and blistering on-court temperatures the clouds swept in from the Atlantic and there were brief drops of rain.

In the second rubber, which lasted two hours two minutes and got underway just under 2.30pm local time, Fognini eased through in straight sets without every looking like he needed to be in top gear.

The first set was the tightest, however, with Monaco throwing away a 53 advantage to lose the set 57.

The players appeared more evenly matched than in the opening rubber but Fognini - who brought out the loudest whistling in the crowd during the day's play - was able to beat Monaco at key moments, with some searing baseline shots and deft drop shots. The Italian hit 36 winners compared to just nine from Monaco and also won more points on his first serve.

The focus now turns to Saturday's doubles rubber in which Argentina's Horacio Zeballos and Eduardo Schwank are scheduled to take on Italy's Filippo Volandri and Simone Bolelli - each team bidding to nudge ahead before what will prove to be a crucial final-day Sunday. Either side could change players at the last moment in a bid to win tomorrow's point.

Italy's team captain Corrado Barazzutti didn't mince his words after the end of the opening day's play. "We didn't start very well and Seppi didn't play a good match," he said. "But we have now finished one all and Fognini played great. The doubles tomorrow will be very important."

Fognini said he felt "really comfortable" on the court during his victory. "I know Pico [Juan Mónaco] well and he's a fighter," he added, "but today I played better than him."

The Italian coach suggested that Fognini's form could lead to his selection for tomorrow's double match, at the expense of either Volandri or Bolelli, although he wouldn't confirm the change.

Argentina's team captain Martin Jaíte said was happy with his team's progress, confirming that Schwank and Zeballos would play tomorrow as scheduled. "It's a normal result one-one in the tie after day one,"

Jaite said. "It's still very difficult for each team and both have equal chances - we have to wait and see what happens on Sunday."

Follow this tie as it happens: Live Scores or Watch Live

Andreas Seppi (ITA) - 31/01/2014

Fabio Fognini (ITA) - 31/01/2014

Captain Martin Jaite (ARG) - 31/01/2014

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    Patinodromo Municipal ¨Adalberto Lugea¨, Mar del Plata, Argentina

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