Davis Cup: Andy Murray and James Ward lose final day rubbers as Italy progress
By Paul Higham Twitter: @SkySportsPaulH. Last Updated: 08/04/14 11:41am
Fabio Fognini celebrates his victory over Andy Murray
Great Britain have been eliminated from the Davis Cup at the quarter-final stage after Italy won both final day singles rubbers to claim a 3-2 win in Naples.
GB were dealt a blow early on Sunday afternoon when Andy Murray fell to a 3-6 3-6 4-6 defeat at the hands of Fabio Fognini, leaving a winner-takes-all showdown between James Ward and Andreas Seppi.
It always looked a tough ask for Ward, ranked 161 in the world, and so it proved as No 34 Seppi swept to a 6-4 6-3 6-4 win to put Italy into their first Davis Cup semi-final since 1998.
Murray had led Britain to a 2-1 lead on Saturday by finishing off a singles win over Seppi before partnering Colin Fleming to a doubles victory in Naples.
But Fognini is a superb player on clay – Murray’s least favoured surface – and he proved it in style as he was just too good for the British No 1 in his straight-sets success.
Fognini broke Murray five times during the match, with the Scot's serve looking continually shaky, and despite some pressure Fognini gave up his serve just once.
The home crowd in Naples gave Fognini some rousing support throughout the match.
It almost threatened to boil over in the early stages as Fognini became embroiled in discussions with some British fans, but the Italians more than made up for that with their noise level really affecting Murray at times.
It was Murray's first singles defeat in Davis Cup since losing to Stanislas Wawrinka in 2005 and ended a run of 19 consecutive wins.
Ward put up a strong showing in a four-set defeat to Fognini, Italy’s best player, in the opening singles match on Friday, but Seppi rose to the occasion in front of a partisan home crowd.
The key moments of Ward's match against Seppi came in the first set.
The Italian has not had a good season so far and has a reputation for struggling with nerves, and that seemed to be borne out as three times Ward retrieved breaks of serve.
The last came when Seppi served for the set at 5-3, but a rain break did not help Ward as he promptly dropped serve for a third straight time to lose the set.
One break of serve for Seppi, in the sixth game, was enough for him to take the second set and the end was nigh when he moved 4-1 ahead in the third.
To Ward's credit, he kept fighting and saved a match point at 3-5 but Seppi stayed strong and served out the win impressively.
Britain's win over the United States in February ensured they would play in the World Group again next season.