Federer forced to yield on Mantilla's factory floor

At the outset of the Rome Masters final yesterday between Roger Federer, the Swiss world No 5, and Felix Mantilla, of Spain, ranked No 47, here yesterday a French colleague, Philippe Bouin, remarked that there was class on one side of the net, and working class on the other.

At the outset of the Rome Masters final yesterday between Roger Federer, the Swiss world No 5, and Felix Mantilla, of Spain, ranked No 47, here yesterday a French colleague, Philippe Bouin, remarked that there was class on one side of the net, and working class on the other.

Working class, in the shape of the industrious, unspectacular Mantilla, prevailed, 7-5, 6-2, 7-6, after two hours and 40 minutes in sweltering heat. Federer, a master of all the shots, was unable to hit winners when chances presented themselves, particularly in the opening set, and suffered the consequences of 69 unforced errors.

Having collected his first title since the Palermo event in 2001, the tearful, 28-year-old Mantilla thanked the spectators for their support during the most successful week of his career. His compatriot Albert Costa, the French Open champion, and a rejuvenated Yevgeny Kafelnikov figured among Mantilla's hard-fought victories en route to the final, and he completed his triumph by refusing to yield to Federer, the man in form.

The 21-year-old Federer arrived in Rome after winning his third title of the year in Munich, and extended his winning sequence of sets to 23 before conceding one to Filippo Volandri, an Italian wild card, in the quarter-finals. Yesterday was one of those occasions he thought he had put behind him, when he would dip into his bulging tool box and select a spanner when he needed a screwdriver.

Federer, unable to convert any of seven break points in the first set, was nailed by Mantilla's second opportunity in the 12th game. Giving ground to Mantilla is bad news on any surface, but especially clay, on which he has won each of his 10 titles. When he played Kafelnikov in Saturday's semi-finals, the Russian served for the match at 6-5 in the second set, but Mantilla emerged the winner, 4-6, 7-6, 6-4.

Even though Federer converted his eighth break point to break in the opening game of the second set, hitting a deep drive that Mantilla could not keep in play, this did not deter the Spaniard, whose confidence and determination enabled him to level the set to 2-2 and then break twice more, in the sixth and eighth games.

Federer gave his best in the third set, recovering from 0-2, helped by Mantilla's double-faulting on break point in the third game, and then breaking for 3-2 after Mantilla had lead, 40-0. Federer held two set points when serving at 5-4, only to double-fault to bring Mantilla back to 5-5.

The next game, with Mantilla serving, was epic: 26 points played over 14 minutes, with 10 deuces, seven break points and five game points, ending with Federer netting a forehand.

Having converted only three of 17 break points, Federer was fortunate to force the third set into a tie-break after twice double-faulting in the 11th game. Thankfully, the shoot-out added more drama, Federer crafting two more set points and saving two match points before Mantilla took the third for 10-8, returning a second serve and then watching a Federer forehand fly over the baseline.

"The way I came back in the last two matches," the overjoyed Spaniard said, "shows that I am also mentally strong."

Federer, who leaves today to defend the Hamburg Masters title, said: "The whole match was a disappointment. He doesn't go for outright winners. He plays very patiently. It's a bit boring. He plays it the same all the time. It doesn't matter if you hit a good ball, or a worse ball.

"I lost so many points today, but I felt I did the right things. I walked off the court thinking it was meant to be, that he was meant to win."

Mantilla, the blue collar champion, left the factory €400,000 (£286,000) richer.

* Tim Henman has been drawn against the American Jan-Michael Gambill in the first round of the Hamburg Masters today. Victory could mean a meeting with the Frenchman Sebastian Grosjean. Juan Carlos Ferrero, who has a shoulder injury, has followed Andre Agassi in pulling out of the event, meaning that the top two players in the ATP Champions Race will miss the event.

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