TURIN, ITALY: Italy will take a slender advantage into the final day of play after beating Croatia in the doubles on Saturday to take a 2-1 lead in the tie and leave them needing one more victory to make it into the quarterfinals for the first time since 1998.
Fabio Fognini and Simone Bolelli beat Marin Cilic and Ivan Dodig 36 61 63 76(11) in 3 hours and 17 minutes, with an ace from Fognini converting Italy's fifth match point.
"That was a really thrilling match! I really risked dying in the chair!” Italy captain Corrado Barazzutti said. “I'm very happy because we won and we're 2-1 up and so that's another little step to victory. We'll wait and see what happens tomorrow.
"The tiebreak was unbelievable. Very, very tough for the players and for us outside the court! We have more of a chance now, but there's a lot of tennis still to play. But we're a little closer to victory."
Italy is now on the verge of a first victory over Croatia at the third time of asking.
"We've taken a small step forward today," Fognini said. "We have two singles now and we'll be a little favourite. We play doubles to improve, but also to win, and that's what we did today.
"Our strength is our unity on and off the court. There's a lot of friendship in the team and I think that's important. If you look at (Sara) Errania and (Roberta) Vinci, they're No. 1 in the world in the women's doubles and that's partly because they're like sisters. That's where we want to be and we can do that. We're great friends, we work well together."
Cilic will need to beat Andreas Seppi in the battle of the No. 1s in tomorrow’s opening singles rubber to keep Croatia in the tie.
"Of course it’s not easy when u play three or four hours, day after day, but I think I'll be okay," said Cilic, whose match against Paolo Lorenzi lasted nearly four hours yesterday.
"There's a big pressure on both teams tomorrow. Seppi had some rest today but it will be a good challenge for me to see if I can play three good days in a row. I'll go into the match with that in mind, still optimistic and seeing what I can do. It will be hard because he's very good and the crowd will be even more behind him, but it's a good challenge."
Croatia coach Zeljko Krajan remains confident.
"Things didn't change, we just have to win two matches tomorrow, not one," he said. "But I'm still confindet we can win both matches tomorrow.
"We have to win both so there's no point saying which I think is the easier to win. The most important one is the first one, because if we don't win that then we can't win. If we win that, then the most important will be the second."
Both Italy and Croatia opted to change their original line-ups. Fognini recovered enough from a case of flu to line-up alongside Bolelli in place of Lorenzi, who had gone to five sets against World No. 13 Cilic yesterday as a late stand-in.
For Croatia, both the singles players from Friday returned to the court, with Cilic and Ivan Dodig preferred over Mate Pavic and Nikola Mektic.
The Croatian duo's strong service game was the key in the first set and Cilic and Dodig landed seven aces between them, with several of the latter's serves being recorded at just under 200kmph.
They broke Fognini's serve in the eighth game to take a 5-3 lead after a poor game from the Italian duo.
Dodig held his serve as the Croatians converted their third set point when Fognini's return hit the net and bounced over but wide.
However, there was an immediate response from Italy as they broke Dodig's serve in the second game of the second set. A perfect diagonal forehand from Fognini sealing the game.
They could have gone further ahead and broken Cilic's serve next, but wasted two break points.
But, aided by the passionate home crowd, Bolelli and Fognini were going from strength to strength and they held Bolelli's serve to love before breaking again to take a 5-1 lead.
Bolelli had been performing admirably at the net all match and it was a powerful smash from there which saw Italy level the match.
There was more of the same from Italy in the third set and a Dodig double fault gave the Azzurri another early break.
Fognini and Bolelli were playing some delightful tennis and two brilliant games saw them take the lead. Balolleli held his serve to love again to give Italy a 5-3 advantage in the third set and they broke Croatia again to take the set when Cilic hit into the net.
Italy started the fourth set well too and Fognini held to love. Croatia threatened a break in the fifth game but Italy responded well and eventually won a hard-fought game following a disputed call in their favour and a ball which Cilic just failed to reach.
That seemed to give the Azzurri a psychological advantage and they broke to take a 4-2 lead and leave them with victory in their sights. However, Croatia broke straight back.
The rest of the set went with serve and Dodig held to love to force a tiebreak.
Croatia looked to have gotten back in the match when they earned a set point but Bolelli pulled out a great serve which Cilic couldn't return.
Italy then missed four chances to win the match, while it also had to rescue a set point, before Fognini's ace.
Follow this tie as it happens: Live scores or Watch Live
Fabio Fognini/Simone Bolelli (ITA) - 02/02/13
Captain Corrado Barazzutti (ITA) - 02/02/13
Marin Cilic/Ivan Dodig (CRO) - 02/02/13
Captain Zeljko Krajan (CRO) - 02/02/13