MAR DEL PLATA, ARGENTINA: Italy overcame a hostile crowd and some spirited play from home side Argentina to win the fourth rubber and, with it, the opening-round tie of the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas in Mar del Plata.
Crowd favourite Carlos Berlocq showed bags of commitment against Fabio Fognini, but in the end the 29 places between the two players’ world rankings began to show, with Berlocq eventually losing 76(5) 46 61 64 in a rubber that lasted three hours and 38 minutes.
“It was a great victory,” said a weary-looking Italian team captain Corrado Barazzutti. “It has been a long time since we have won away from home, so [it was] very important.”
Italy finished with an unassailable 3-1 advantage with the final reverse singles rubber between Argentina’s Juan Mónaco and Italy’s Andreas Seppi not being played.
Italy now progress to the quarterfinals – only their second since 1998 – where they will play either Great Britain, currently enjoying a 2-1 lead in their tie against USA, or their opponents, who will need to with both final rubbers.
“I’m happy to be part of this team and that we can play another Davis Cup tie,” said 26-year-old Fabio Fognini after he came off court.
Berlocq was off his game at the start of the opening set, similar to his lethargic start on Friday against Andreas Seppi. Fognini had won the toss and elected to receive first and it worked to his advantage as Berlocq was broken to love, committing a couple of unforced errors and being punished by a driving backhand winner from the Italian.
But the game didn’t run away from the Argentine and with both players making plenty of initial errors the game continued closely as Berlocq was able to immediately break back. But he was again broken in the fifth game, trying to give it his all and over-hitting, outdone by his Italian counterpart at the back of the court.
Indeed, the initial set was defined by breaks and counter breaks, a total of three from each meant that the players levelled at six games apiece and a tiebreak was called. Fognini initially built a 5-2 lead but an ace and a couple of strong shots from the Argentinean brought the two players level at 5-5 before Fognini eventually closed it out two points later.
Berlocq was able to shrug off nearly being broken in the fourth game of the second set and was able to exert his authority over Fognini in the eighth game, breaking him to take the set to 5-3 and then win it 64.
Fognini was not playing at the level that the world No. 15 was capable of and badly needed to raise his game if his was going to beat an opponent known as “The Gladiator” for his grinding determination.
Passions were raw out in Mar del Plata with the crowd doing its best to put off the Italian between his first and second serve. Tempers occasionally flared with Fognini – who has a reputation for on-court antics – at times gesticulating and getting wound up by the crowd, all of which added to the pantomime atmosphere.
Both players showed frustration with the crowd for not being quiet in-between points and Argentina’s team captain Martín Jaite came over the loudspeaker early in the second set to tell people to enjoy the “fiesta” but be respectful. The Spanish chair umpire eventually served Argentina a warning in the fourth set and Fognini was particularly irked after a member of the crowd – eventually escorted from his seat – shouted abuse at him.
Fognini turned his game up in the third set and showed much more powerful hitting with a series of punishing cross-court winners and five aces compared to none from Berlocq. A break on Berlocq’s first service game and two holds of serve placed him in a commanding position to go on and eventually take it 61.
By the final set Fignoni was taking no prisoners and hit a wicked lob in the fourth game over Berlocq who ran to the back of the court and was able to just return – but was then punished by a searing cross-court forehand winner from his opponent.
With a Fognini break in the fifth game of the fourth set, he just needed to hold serve to win the rubber and the tie for Italy, which he did, taking the set 64, before bending down to kiss the red clay surface on which he had struck 76 winners through the course of the rubber.
So will Fognini be out on the town tonight? “That you have to ask the team!” he said. “Tomorrow is another day.”
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Captain Corrado Barazzutti (ITA) - 02/02/2014
Fabio Fognini (ITA) - 02/02/2014
Captain Martin Jaite (ARG) - 02/02/2014