Fognini, Italy finish off Croatia

Fabio Fognini beat Ivan Dodig in four sets in the decisive singles match on Sunday to give Italy a 3-2 win over Croatia in the Davis Cup and send his country to the quarterfinals for the first time in 15 years.

Fognini recovered from losing the first set, which saw five breaks of serve, to win 4-6, 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 in 2 hours, 43 minutes on Croatia captain Zeljko Krajan’s 34th birthday.

Dodig racked up 17 aces, but still found himself outplayed by the 44th-ranked Fognini in front of a passionate home crowd.

”It was a crazy victory, but everyone always says I’m crazy,” Fognini said. ”I’m extremely, extremely happy, because it was a great match, and also because it was for Italy and everything’s different and more emotional. It wasn’t just my victory, it was Italy’s victory.

”I’m really happy because two nights ago I was in bed with a fever, I had a temperature of 38 degrees, but the staff were amazing, so thanks goes to them too and the whole team. In Davis Cup, everyone wins or everyone loses. I’m delighted that we’ve made history, that we’ve reached the quarterfinals after so many years.”

Fognini broke twice in the final set to leave him serving for the match. With the crowd on its feet after every point during that final game, Fognini didn’t disappoint and he collapsed to his knees in relief and joy when Dodig’s return went long on match point.

Italy will meet Canada — which ousted an underpowered Spain squad — in its first quarterfinal since 1998.

”I’m beyond happy, and first and foremost for the lads,” Italy captain Corrado Barazzutti said. ”They’re strong players and a real team, and they’ve shown that. This result deserves a lot of recognition, they’ve done it as a team and I’m delighted for them.

”Fabio showed he has a lot of character. He has a lot of potential and I really hope he manages to play every week at that level, because that will push him in the ranking to a position which he deserves with his talent. This is a great test of character and his character helped us pass the first round for the first time in so many years.”

Earlier, Marin Cilic had given Croatia hope when he beat Andreas Seppi 6-3, 6-3, 7-5 to draw Croatia level in the series.

”It certainly didn’t go how I wanted it to,” Seppi said. ”But a lot of credit goes to him, he served really well, and unfortunately I was below par. I didn’t serve as well as I could. I think I’ve caught a bit of the virus that’s going around and at the beginning I felt a bit weak, didn’t feel as good as I did in the first day.

”I had chances and I should have taken advantage of them, gone into the fourth and then anything could have happened. But unfortunately I didn’t. I had to win that third set and then he would have got more tired in the fourth set. I was below par without a doubt and there’s regret that I didn’t do what I wanted to on the court.”