Tennis: Maradona fails to inspire as Argentina suffer Davis Cup slump

Argentine football legend Diego Maradona (centre) cheers nexto his girlfiend Rocio Oliva (left) and his grandson Benjamin Aguero (son of Gianinna Maradona and footballer Sergio Aguero) (right) during the 2017 Davis Cup World Group first round single
Argentine football legend Diego Maradona (centre) cheers nexto his girlfiend Rocio Oliva (left) and his grandson Benjamin Aguero (son of Gianinna Maradona and footballer Sergio Aguero) (right) during the 2017 Davis Cup World Group first round single tennis match.PHOTO: AFP
Italy's tennis player Andreas Seppi returns the ball to Argentina's Carlos Berlocq during their 2017 Davis Cup World Group first round single tennis match at Parque Sarmiento stadium in Buenos Aires on Feb 3, 2017.
Italy's tennis player Andreas Seppi returns the ball to Argentina's Carlos Berlocq during their 2017 Davis Cup World Group first round single tennis match at Parque Sarmiento stadium in Buenos Aires on Feb 3, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

PARIS (AFP) - Argentina endured a traumatic start to their Davis Cup title defence Friday (Feb 3) 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 quarter-finals.

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 quarter-finals.

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).

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.

Kyrgios fired 21 aces in his victory.

"That's my main weapon," he said. "I'm always trying to develop that part of my game. That's what I'm aiming to do every match." Should 28-time champions Australia seal victory in Saturday's doubles, they could face the United States, winners of the Davis Cup on a record 32 occasions, if they defeat Switzerland in Birmingham.

The US are favourites after Australian Open champion Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka opted not to play leaving the Swiss looking to Henri Laaksonen and 35-year-old Marco Chiudinelli, both outside the top 100, to shock Jack Sock and John Isner, both in the top 30.

Nine-time champions France, without Gael Monfils and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, took an early stranglehold on their Tokyo tie against Japan who are without world number five Kei Nishikori.

Richard Gasquet swept past Taro Daniel 6-2, 6-3, 6-2 before Gille Simon overpowered Yoshihito Nishioka 6-3, 6-3, 6-4.

The winners of that tie will face either Canada, missing world number four Milos Raonic, or Britain who are playing without Andy Murray, the world's top-ranked player.

They were facing off in Ottawa.