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Hewitt hails Davis Cup pulling power as Ecuador, Italy enjoy empty feeling

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Paris (AFP)

Australia captain Lleyton Hewitt hailed the pulling power of the Davis Cup on Saturday as the 28-time champions booked a spot in November's finals where they were joined by Ecuador and Italy who triumphed in empty arenas locked down because of the coronavirus crisis.

John Millman was Australia's star in Adelaide with a second fighting win in the singles, wearing down Thiago Monteiro 6-7 (6/8), 7-6 (7/3), 7-6 (7-3) to give the home side victory over Brazil.

The win echoed his come-from-behind three-set victory on Friday over Thiago Seyboth Wild in the opening singles.

"What a performance. That's what Davis Cup tennis is all about," Hewitt said. "Johnny had to come out and back up what he did on Friday."

Marcelo Demoliner and Felipe Meligeni Alves earlier kept Brazil alive in the tie with a gripping three-set win in the doubles.

The pair fought back to beat John Peers and James Duckworth 5-7, 7-5, 7-6 (8/6).

Underdogs Ecuador swept past Japan 3-0 in Miki in a tie played behind closed doors due to fears over the spread of the coronavirus.

The hosts were without their two star players -- injury-hit Kei Nishikori and world number 48 Yoshihito Nishioka, who decided not to join his team to avoid a possible virus quarantine on his return to the United States.

Gonzalo Escobar and Diego Hidalgo outplayed home duo Ben McLachlan and Yasutaka Uchiyama 7-6 (7/3), 6-3 to give Ecuador, without a singles player in the world top 150, a shock victory.

"The situation with no fans helped us," Hidalgo told daviscup.com. "It was weird to play in a stadium without spectators and I think that evened up the tie."

Uchiyama said it was hard to concentrate while playing in a nearly empty arena, "but I don't want to use it as an excuse".

A limited number of journalists and backroom staff were permitted to enter the arena once they had their body temperature checked, with some organisers wearing facemasks.

As they did on Friday, ball boys and girls wore gloves and used baskets for players to toss their towels in so they would not have to touch them.

Italy shrugged off the absence of fans in Cagliari to defeat South Korea with Fabio Fognini and Simone Bolelli easily beating Nam Ji-sung and Song Min-kyu 6-3, 6-1 in just over an hour.

- 'Calm, collected' -

Italian tennis federation match director Sergio Palmeri suggested that the occasionally combustible Fognini was better suited to playing in an empty stadium.

"Fabio was very calm, very collected. We joked that maybe he should play behind closed doors all the time," Palmeri told daviscup.com.

All sports in Italy are being played behind closed doors as the country tries to stem the spread of COVID-19 which has caused 233 fatalities with more than 5,000 infected.

In Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan defeated the Netherlands when Alexander Bublik saw off Robin Haase 7-6 (7-4).

Germany sealed a 4-1 win over Belarus in Duesseldorf with Jan-Lennard Struff winning his second rubber of the weekend, seeing off Egor Gerasimov 6-3, 6-2.

In Graz, Austria, playing without world number three Dominic Thiem, defeated Uruguay when Dennis Novak maintained his 100-percent record with a 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 win over veteran Pablo Cuevas.

Mikael Ymer also claimed a second win, battling past Alejandro Tabilo 6-3, 5-7, 6-3 as Sweden edged out Chile in Stockholm.

The ties between 32-time winners United States and Uzbekistan, Colombia against Argentina, Croatia v India, Hungary v Belgium and Slovakia against neighbours Czech Republic were to be decided later.

The 12 winners from this weekend's qualifiers will join champions Spain, Canada, Britain, Russia, France and Serbia in November's finals in Madrid.

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