Milos Raonic put Canada back on even terms with Italy at their Davis Cup quarter-final tie.
Raonic defeated Fabio Fognini 6-4, 7-6 (7-4), 7-5 on Friday night after Canada's Vasek Pospisil dropped the opening match to Andreas Seppi.
Since he joined the Davis Cup team in 2010, the big-serving Raonic has been Canada's ace in the hole. The Thornhill, Ont., native has now claimed six straight singles victories for Canada. His overall Davis Cup record is now 11-4, 9-3 in singles.
Raonic — ranked No. 16 in the world — wasted little time gaining the upper hand on No. 31 Fabio Fognini. He won the first set fairly routinely, but was forced to a tie-breaker before claiming the second.
Raonic says he's pleased with the result, but not totally satisfied with his play.
"I know I can play better," he said. "What I was happy with was I felt I was dictating the terms of the match. I slipped up a couple of times but I kept within myself."
The players traded early breaks in the third set, but with Fognini serving at 5-6 Raonic broke again then sealed the victory on his fifth match point.
Raonic served 25 aces to just three for his opponent.
"He's has one of the best serves on the tour," said Fognini. "It's one of the top three."
Raonic had to withdraw from his third-round match at the recent Sony Open in Miami with strep throat. He says it hasn't affected his preparation for the Davis Cup tie, although he did experience a bit a relapse Thursday.
"Last night, I had a bit of a scratchy throat again," he said. "But I have a routine where I know what I have to do to feel 100 per cent."
Canada will look to take a 2-1 lead in Saturday's doubles, when Pospisil and veteran Daniel Nestor are scheduled to face Daniele Braciali and Paolo Lorenzi.
In the opening match, Seppi rallied from two sets down to beat Pospisil 5-7, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-3.
Canada was hoping Pospisil might be able to pull a huge upset similar to the one Frank Dancevic managed in the previous tie in February when he upset a player ranked 132 places ahead of him in World Group first-round action against Spain.
Seppi is Italy's top singles player and ranked No. 18 in the world to No. 140 for Pospisil — who was filling in for the injured Dancevic.
It was looking very promising for a while as the 22-year-old native of Vernon, B.C., thrilled the crowd by taking the first two sets. But Seppi showed his fighting spirit by digging in to claim the final three sets and the victory.
Pospisil had a battle with mononucleosis just three months ago which sapped his strength but said his fitness level wasn't a factor.
"Physically, I was fine," he said. "But what can happen in five-set matches is you have to concentrate over a longer period of time. In the fourth set I feel I had a lapse in the first three games and that cost me the set.
"From the third set on he stepped up his game. He became more aggressive. He was very solid from that point on."
The talented Seppi started to turn things around in the third set, breaking Pospisil in the third game then holding serve the rest of the way. Then he broke his young Canadian opponent in the opening game of the fourth and again in the ninth to even the match.
In the fifth and deciding set momentum had clearly shifted for Seppi, who gained the decisive break in game four —when Pospisil hit a backhand into the net — for a 3-1 lead he never relinquished.
Seppi said Italian captain Corrado Barazzutti took him aside after he lost the first two sets and sold him to be more positive.
"He said, `Don't be so negative.' He told me to calm down and fight to the end. Getting early breaks from the third set on allowed me to relax more and concentrate on my serve."
Pospisil managed 10 aces to seven for his opponent. But the young Canadian also dished up six double faults to only three by Seppi.
Italy has won the Davis Cup once, in 1976. Canada has never won the Davis Cup, but was in the semifinals in 1913. Canada is in the World Group quarter-finals for the first time since the current tiered format began in 1981.
The winner of the Canada-Italy tie will move on to face either the U.S. or Serbia in the World Group semifinals in September. The loser will retain its spot in the 2014 World Group without having to go into the playoff round.