Maradona fails to inspire as Argentina suffer Davis Cup slump

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Former Argentine soccer star Diego Maradona cheers next to his girlfriend Rocio Oliva. — Reuters

PARIS: Argentina endured a traumatic start to their Davis Cup title defence on Friday when they slumped 2-0 down to Italy despite the fervent support of Diego Maradona.
Playing without Juan Martin del Potro and Federico Delbonis, the stars of their 2016 final victory over Croatia, the South Americans were outclassed at the Parque Sarmiento in Buenos Aires as the World Group got underway.
A crowd of 2,000, including football icon Maradona, failed to inspire Guido Pella who lost to veteran Paolo Lorenzi, 6-3, 6-3, 6-3.
Andreas Seppi, a late call-up for the ill Fabio Fognini, then made it 2-0 with a 6-1, 6-2, 1-6, 7-6 (8/6) win over Carlos Berlocq who was celebrating his 34th birthday.
“It was a tough match beyond the result as the first two sets lasted almost two hours,” said Lorenzi after securing just his second ever singles win in the Davis Cup.
The winners of the tie will face either Germany or Belgium, who are 1-1, in the quarterfinals.
In Frankfurt, world number 22 Alexander Zverev crushed Arthur de Greef, the world 143, to pull Germany level.
De Greef had been called into the team to replace national number one David Goffin but he was unable to replicate the heroics of Steve Darcis who downed Philipp Kohlschreiber 6-4, 3-6, 2-6, 7-6 (7/2), 7-5 (7/5) in the opening rubber. At Nis, 12-time major winner Novak Djokovic, just one of two of the world’s top 15 who are playing in the first round this weekend, was taking on 20-year-old Daniil Medvedev as 2010 champions Serbia took on Russia.
Djokovic opted to play in the tie to rebuild his confidence after his shock second round exit at the Australian Open. World number 37 Viktor Troicki had given Serbia a winning start when he downed 52nd-ranked Karen Khachanov 6-4, 6-7 (3/7), 6-3, 1-6, 7-6 (8/6) in a 4hr 30 min marathon.
The winners of the tie will face either five-time champions Spain or Croatia in the quarterfinals.
Despite missing former US Open champion Marin Cilic, the Croats took the lead in Osijek when world number 223 Franko Skugor stunned 26th-ranked Pablo Carreno Busta 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, 4-6, 7-6 (8/6). Federer, Murray, Nadal absent — Roberto Bautista Agut steadied the ship for Spain with the world 16 breezing past Ante Pavic — ranked at 486 — 6-4, 6-2, 6-3. Spain are without 14-time major winner Rafael Nadal who skipped the tie after reaching the Australian Open final.
Nick Kyrgios conceded just seven games in powering Australia to a 2-0 lead over the Czech Republic, who are without Tomas Berdych, in Melbourne.
The controversial world number 15 took just 95 minutes to reel off a 6-2, 6-3, 6-2 win over the 157th-ranked Jan Satral. Rookie Jordan Thompson upset Czech number one Jiri Vesely 6-3, 6-3, 6-4 in the opening rubber.
Kyrgios, who was fined for swearing and throwing his racquet after a stormy second round exit at the Australian Open, showed no such behaviour under the watchful eye of Australia captain Lleyton Hewitt.  — AFP