Team GB missed out on their first Davis Cup semi-final in thirty three years after the Italians fought back to win 3-2 in Naples on Sunday. After a weekend filled with illness (Murray laid low with a stomach bug on Thursday night), bad weather, suspended matches and all out tension the quarter final held at Tennis Club Napoli did not disappoint for tennis fans, especially those supporting the Italians. Leading the fight for team GB, captained by Leon Smith, was British number One Andy Murray along with teammates Dan Evans, James Ward, Colin Fleming and Ross Hutchins.
The tie was also going to be a tricky one for Team GB as the Italian team contained two top ranked players with world number 13 Fabio Fognini and Andreas Seppi, ranked 34th both featuring for the home side. Although Murray ranked 6th heads Team GB, the rest of the players hold lower rankings and are not in the Worlds top fifty like other countries Davis Cup teams. At the end of day one, Italy had taken an early lead when Fognini beat Ward 6-4, 2-6, 6-4, 6-1 in their singles match despite the efforts of the large continent of British fans loudly voicing (reported that 700 fans travelled to Italy to support the team) their support for Team GB. Murray, 26 whose match against Seppi was delayed at the start by two hours due to heavy rain, was leading his opponent 6-4, 5-5 when play was suspended overnight due to bad light, enviable after the initial lengthily delay. Murray warded off the pressure of the fading light in the last game to hold his serve and level the match at 5-5 before they called it a day. The match was resumed first thing on Saturday morning and Murray won 6-4, 7-5, 6-3 to level the overall score at 1-1 ahead of the doubles.
Murray and Fleming in doubles action (source:http://www.express.co.uk)
Fleming and Hutchins were the nominated doubles pair for the Saturday afternoon match, but Smith called in Murray to replace Hutchins in what he deemed the crucial third rubber in the best-of-five tie. A win against the Italian pair of Simone Bolelli and Fognini would guarantee a crucial overnight lead against the Italians and Murray/Fleming did not disappoint with a 6-4, 6-2, 3-6, 7-5 victory.
Team GB started day three with a 2-1 lead and a quarter-final place within touching distance. With everything to play for on the last day of singles matches, first under the spotlight was Murray against Fognini. This was always expected to be tough test for Murray as Fognini has climbed to a career high ranking of 13 and won three titles on clay already this year. Despite Murray looking the more consistent player in the opening games, Fognini, backed by the very vocal Neapolitan fans, showcased his clay court prowess and outplayed the Wimbledon Champion, winning 6-3, 6-3, 6-4 leaving Murray with his first ever Davis Cup singles match defeat. With the score now 2-2 the pressure switched to Ward, 27 in the deciding fifth rubber. Star of the team back in February’s fixture in San Diego, Ward pulled off the shock defeat against USA’s Sam Querrey. Unfortunaelty this was not to be repeated in Naples and despite several chances, Ward’s consistency was broken by a rain delay and the booming Italian crowd added to the pressure, Seppi played great tennis and dominated the game, winning 6-4, 6-3, 6-4 to give Italy the overall victory.
Captain Smith who has led Team GB in their best Davis Cup campaign in twenty-eight years, said of the defeat, “Losing is never easy, despite going up against a very strong Italian team,” He added “I’m very proud of what the team has done this weekend and getting to this stage of the competition. It gives us something to build on, learn from, and we can just keep improving as a team and staff so that we can get ready for the 2015 campaign.”
A triumphant Fognini said, “Today I just played better than Andy,” adding “We know this sport really is difficult and Andy played a lot yesterday. I just focused on my game and tried and do my best.”
Murray insisted he did not feel the effects of playing two singles and a doubles match in 24 hours, saying: “I did OK physically in the match. I’ve definitely felt worse on clay.” Asked about the crowd noise, he added: “It was a Davis Cup atmosphere. We don’t get that on a day-to-day basis on the ATP Tour, but when you play away from home you get that.
However disappointing the overall result was for the British players and fans it was still Team GB’s best Davis Cup campaign since 1986 and the team will return to World Group stages in round one next year. The Italians find themselves in their first semi-final since 1998 and will face the Swiss team that includes Roger Federer and Stanilas Wawrinka. Adding to team GB’s huge disappointment is that the quarter final between Italy and Switerzland will be played on Wimbledon’s Centre Court, which would have been a wonderful occasion for Britsih tennis.
All quotes and photos are from the BBC Sport website unless otherwise stated – http://www.bbc.com/sport/0/tennis/