NAPLES, Italy (AP) — Italy won both singles matches against Britain in straight sets on Sunday to reach the Davis Cup semifinals for the first time in 16 years.
Fabio Fognini pulled off a surprise 6-3, 6-3, 6-4 victory over two-time Grand Slam champion Andy Murray to level the best-of-five quarterfinal at 2-2 before Andreas Seppi defeated James Ward 6-4, 6-3, 6-4 in the decisive match.
“A great feat, a great success for all Italian tennis,” Italy captain Corrado Barazzutti said. “It was time we got back to the semifinals. It’s credit to everyone, to a team which has a great character. It was a victory of character.”
Britain was looking to reach the semifinals for the first time since 1981 but Fognini was in commanding form to end Murray’s run of 19 consecutive singles victories in the competition.
Seppi rarely struggled against a player ranked 127 places below him and comfortably served out for the match.
Italy will play either Switzerland or Kazakhstan in September’s semifinal.
“Today I just played better than Andy and that’s tennis,” Fognini said. “I was annoyed yesterday after the doubles. This was a very important victory, it’s certainly my best match in Davis Cup. I just stayed focused on my game and I managed to win.”
Fognini triumphed in the match between the countries’ top players, despite dropping his serve in the first game. The 13th-ranked Fognini managed to save two break points but double-faulted to hand Murray the opening game.
Fognini had the opportunity to break straight back but hit long and then netted on another break point as Murray went on to take a 2-0 lead.
In a typically lively Davis Cup atmosphere, British fans chanted “Fabio, we are in your head,” but he was cheered on by the vociferous home support.
Fognini broke Murray to love and earned another break when Murray double-faulted as he won five straight games to take the opening set.
Murray almost dropped serve again early in the second set as he had to fend off two break points after being 40-0 up. However, Fognini broke twice at the end of the set following another double-fault from Murray on the first of two break points.
The final set went with serve until the final game, when Fognini went up 40-0 on Murray’s serve. Murray saved one match point when Fognini netted a forehand, and rescued the second with a crosscourt volley but hit the third into the net.
It was Murray’s second defeat in 20 singles matches in the Davis Cup. Fognini moved to 14-2 on clay this season.
“He played very well today, that’s for sure,” Murray said. “He’s a very good player especially on this surface, so I knew it was going to be a tough one and I wasn’t able to play well enough. I did OK physically, not the best, but I’ve been worse.”
Italy had not lost at home to Britain since 1926, and Seppi protected that record by winning a match that saw seven breaks of serve in the opening set.
Seppi was gifted the set after three successive errors from Ward and he held to love to take the opening game of the second.
Ward missed a chance to get back into the match in the fifth game and Seppi took a decisive 4-2 lead when Ward volleyed into the net after saving three previous break points.
Seppi held to love with a drop shot for a 2-0 lead in the match.
Ward had to save another three break points in the first game of the third but Seppi won four games in a row en route to the victory. He sealed the win when Ward’s return sailed long.