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Paes's 30-year Davis Cup dream ends as Ecuador, Italy enjoy empty feeling

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Paris (AFP)

India's Leander Paes went down fighting as his dream of crowning his 30-year Davis Cup career with a place at the finals ended Saturday while Ecuador and Italy reached the November showpiece, triumphing in empty arenas locked down because of the coronavirus crisis.

Paes, 46, has played for India in every Davis Cup season bar one since his debut in 1990 but went to the qualifier tie in Zagreb against two-time champions Croatia having already announced that 2020 would be his last year on tour.

With India trailing 2-0 overnight, Paes rolled back the years, linking up with 40-year-old Rohan Bopanna to defeat Mate Pavic and Franko Skugor 6-3, 6-7 (9/11), 7-5 to keep their country's faint hopes of making the finals alive.

However, former US Open champion Marin Cilic then ruthlessly crushed that ambition with a quickfire 6-0, 6-1 demolition of Sumit Nagal.

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 28-time champions victory over Brazil.

"What a performance. That's what Davis Cup tennis is all about," Australian captain Lleyton Hewitt said.

Marcelo Demoliner and Felipe Meligeni Alves earlier kept Brazil alive in the tie, seeing off John Peers and James Duckworth 5-7, 7-5, 7-6 (8/6).

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 to seal their place in the Madrid finals.

- 'Calm, collected' -

Italian tennis federation match director Sergio Palmieri suggested that the often 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," Palmieri 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), 6-1.

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.

At Debrecen, Marton Fucsovics fought back in the deciding rubber to beat Ruben Bemelmans 6-7 (7/9), 6-4, 6-2 and give Hungary a 3-2 win against Belgium.

The ties between 32-time winners United States and Uzbekistan, Colombia against Argentina 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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