MAR DEL PLATA, ARGENTINA: Italy nudged ahead on the second day of the Davis Cup by PNB Paribas tie against home nation Argentina in the beach town of Mar del Plata, Buenos Aires Province, taking a 2-1 lead. The Italian doubles pairing won after dropping the opening set, 67(6) 76(8) 76(3) 64, in a marathon doubles rubber that lasted a shade under four hours.
The two sides were neck-and-neck for most of the tie with the key moments of the game playing out in three tiebreaks. The crowd, enjoying cooler temperatures than the opening day and in festive weekend spirit, lapped up the drama.
“Italy is [now] in the better position,” said Argentinean team captain Martín Jaite after the rubber. “It was a very tough match for us and we had chances – but in the important moments they played better than us. The difference was two or three points, that’s it.”
As Italy’s team captain hinted yesterday afternoon, world No. 15 Fabio Fognini came into the doubles rubber at the expense Filippo Volandri, alongside Simone Bolelli. The Argentinean team stuck to schedule, fielding Eduardo Schwank with lefthander Horacio Zeballos.
“I never publish my [real] team at the opening ceremony,” Italy’s team captain Corrado Barazzutti said. “Bolelli and Fognini make a great team and have reached the semifinals of the Australian Open and Flushing Meadows together.”
Argentina won the toss and elected to receive serve first, with play getting underway at 1pm local time. Both teams held their serve to force a tiebreak, in which the home nation came out on top, capitalising on a mini-break first up and then winning a string of points to reach 6-1.
But the spectacle wasn’t over. Argentina then lost six points on the trot as the two teams levelled at 6-6, before an error from Fognini at the net allowed Argentina a small window of opportunity, which Zeballos and Schwank took advantage of, winning the tiebreak 8-6
In the second set it was the Italian team’s turn to take an early chance in another tiebreak, with a mini-break, before Argentina broke back. It then went to 4-4, 6-6 and 7-7 before Italy snatched momentum with a stunning running volley from Fognini before the team closed out at 10-8.
Despite some poor net play from Italy and some misjudged smashes from Argentina at the start, both sides were almost equal in terms of winners and errors over the initial three sets, while Italy hit 18 winners to Argentina’s 13 in the final set.
With two rival Argentina supporter factions on either side of the open clay court – banging drums and chanting in-between points, seemingly in competition with each other to see who could make the most noise – the stadium refused to be silenced. Yesterday’s hero, Carlos Berlocq, stood up from his seat on several occasions in order to will the crowd on.
But there was nothing the supporters could do to stop the rubber slipping away from the home team, failing to capitalise on a tiny chance at 4-4 in the third set. Italy then won the third tiebreak comfortably at 7-3, despite the hint of an Argentinean comeback.
It wasn’t until the fourth set – the 39th game of the match – that either team managed to break, with Italy seizing the initiative and winning the second of three break point opportunities on Eduardo Schwank’s serve. With Italy holding serve, the set progressed to 5-4 with Fognini serving for the rubber.
Argentina refused to give up and some great net volleying from Schwank forced the game to deuce and then Argentinean advantage – but neither Schwank nor Zeballos could do enough to break as the Italian players kept their cool to win the rubber.
Everything is now left to play for tomorrow when the singles matches are reversed. Italian hopes will be riding on the shoulders of Fognini who will have to play his third game in three days.
“That happens in the Davis Cup and many people have to do that, so Fognini has to be prepared,” said Italian captain Barazzutti. “Two-one is a good result for us but we know that the tie is not over yet.”
“We have two difficult matches left but we are ready – I am ready” said Fabio Fognini after coming off court. He is up first tomorrow against Berlocq.
Despite today’s loss, Argentinean captain Jaite was still confident his team could pull it back. “We’re still alive!” he said.
Follow this tie as it happens: Live Scores or Watch Live
Captain Corrado Barazzutti (ITA) - 01/02/2014
Captain Martin Jaite (ARG) - 01/02/2014
Simone Bolelli and Fabio Fognini (ITA) - 01/02/2014