Bolelli/Fognini keep Italian hopes alive

Maybe the gods are just setting Roger Federer up for a massively emotional moment on Sunday, but Switzerland’s passage into the 2014 Davis Cup final is not yet assured. Italy threw itself a lifeline by winning a four-hour doubles to take this fascinating semifinal into a third day, and keep the Swiss biting their nails.

The bare facts will record that Italy’s Simone Bolelli and Fabio Fognini beat the home pair of Marco Chiudinelli and Stan Wawrinka 7-5, 3-6, 5-7, 6-3, 6-2, but perhaps the most important statistic is the time. The match ended three minutes short of the four-hour mark, and while Italy has the momentum going into the final day, a fresh Roger Federer is likely to face a slightly jaded Fognini in the first reverse singles.

“I’m a bit tired,” admitted Fognini after his efforts. His captain Corrado Barrazzutti chose to see the uplifting effect of Fognini’s doubles win, but there’s no doubt Federer will start as a strong favourite to beat whoever the Italians place before him - and see him and his team-mates into their first-ever Davis Cup final.

Federer was rested for the doubles, in a low-risk move by the Swiss to try and seal victory in two days but not at all costs. Chiudinelli and Wawrinka had played three times before, and while they had never won a match, they had combined effectively, and lost the longest match in Davis Cup history when Tomas Berdych and Lukas Rosol beat them in just over seven hours.

Switzerland's captain had no regrets about his decision to leave Federer out of the doubles. "We talked yesterday after both matches," he said, "and Roger told me he'd rather not play the doubles - he's had a lot of matches this year - so we took the decision prety quickly and I didn't try to persuade him to change his mind. We wanted to keep Roger fresh in case we didn't win the doubles.

Both pairs traded breaks early in the first set, but it was the break of Chiudinelli’s serve in the 11th game that enabled the Italians - in their matching backwards-facing caps - to take the first set. Chiudinelli struggled on serve late in the second set too, but came through two tight games to level the match after the Swiss had broken early.

The third set was decided in a couple of significant minutes. Chiudinelli was still struggling to be the equal of the other three players - he was missing a lot of first serves, he was late on some volleys, and he was having difficulty directing his returns. It made the Swiss look vulnerable.

But then at 4-5, Wawrinka let his partner take two smashes that Wawrinka could have taken, Chiudinelli put them away, and his confidence rose. When he then hit a backhand winner down Fognini’s line on the first point of the 5-5 game, the stadium sensed the Swiss were on to something. They broke to 15, and Chiudinelli then served out the set to 15 without Wawrinka having to play a single stroke. On such tiny boosts of confidence can entire matches turn.

Only the match turned back Italy's way. The Swiss looked the stronger pair early in the fourth, but Wawrinka was broken in the sixth game. Suddenly the momentum was back with the Italians, and the set was over in a mere 36 minutes.

A long third game ended with Chiudinelli hitting a forehand long to concede his serve, and as Wawrinka’s volleys started to unravel, the Italians broke a second time, and served out victory in the easiest of the five sets, Bolelli putting away a smash on match point. After an opening day with not a single set won, the Italians had three sets in one match and had kept their hopes of a first final since 1998 alive.

“This point was very important for us, even if Roger wasn’t playing,” said Fognini. “I am much happier with my performance today, I served much better than yesterday, I returned much better. It’s still going to be very difficult for us but it’s a little less difficult than before. It depends if I play tomorrow, we have to decide. I’m a bit tired, but Simone and I always played long matches, we played four hours in Argentina, we played a long match in Naples, so we’re going to try until the end.”

Whether we play with Roger and Stan or Marco and Stan, the chances of winning the doubles are not much higher, so I think it was a good decision to take."

The nominated players for Sunday are Federer against Fognini in the first reverse singles, followed by Wawrinka facing Bolelli, but both captains can field any player as long as he didn’t face the same opponent on Friday.

Date: 13th September 2014, Source: Davis Cup


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