Federer's run ends as Rome rises to Volandri

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The Independent Online

Wresting A set from Roger Federer takes some doing nowadays, but Filippo Volandri achieved that much yesterday. The Italian wild card ended the Swiss world No 5's run of 23 consecutive sets, embracing a Davis Cup tie against France, a tournament win in Munich last week and his advance to the semi-finals of the Rome Masters here.

Wresting A set from Roger Federer takes some doing nowadays, but Filippo Volandri achieved that much yesterday. The Italian wild card ended the Swiss world No 5's run of 23 consecutive sets, embracing a Davis Cup tie against France, a tournament win in Munich last week and his advance to the semi-finals of the Rome Masters here.

Federer's 23rd set on the bounce gave him the lead in yesterday's quarter-final, at which point Volandri struck. The 21-year-old from Livorno lacks a serve with power, so he has taken to spinning the ball in, trusting that he will be able to deal with the return and stay in the game long enough to make his ground-strokes count.

This worked so well in Monte Carlo last month that Volandri qualified and advanced to his first ATP quarter-final. A set down to Federer yesterday, Volandri refused to capitulate against a master of all the strokes. Volandri took a 3-0 lead in the second set, did not lose his nerve when Federer recovered to 3-3, and prompted the biggest roar when he broke for 7-5 to level the match.

Try though he did, Volandri was unable to build on that, and was broken for 1-2 and 2-5 in the third set as Federer took the match, 6-3, 5-7, 6-2, after two hours of hard work to remain unbeaten in nine matches on clay this year. Federer showed his appreciation to the crowd and then acknowledged Volandri's display by stretching his arms in the direction of his opponent like a soloist paying respect to a fellow musician. Volandri had not won, but he showed why he has risen to become Italy's No 1 this week.

In today's semi-finals, Federer will play the second seed, Juan Carlos Ferrero, who defeated the German Rainer Schüttler, 6-4, 6-4. Should Federer win, it is possible he will play Russia's Yevgeny Kafelnikov in tomorrow's final, in which case the spectators could be in for another treat: a contest between a young man showing signs of reaching his potential and a wily warrior who is making the most of his second wind.

The 29-year-old Kafelnikov has lost none of his court craft, nor his temperament. The latter was demonstrated in an outburst during the sixth game of his 6-3, 7-5 quarter-final win against Martin Verkerk, the big-serving Dutch qualifier who had beaten him in the Milan final in February. After missing a shot as Verkerk served at 2-3, 15-15, Kafelnikov swore in Russian and received a warning from the French umpire, Cédric Mourier. Kafelnikov swore again, this time in English, and Mourier docked him a penalty point which took Verkerk to 40-15. The Dutchman won the game.

Mourier did Kafelnikov a favour, concentrating the Russian's mind before he lapsed into erratic mode. Kafelnikov went on to break for 5-3 and served out the set after 41 minutes.

Although Verkerk continues to hit first and second serves with gusto, his accuracy was sometimes awry. He was broken for 1-2 in the second set, having opened the game with three consecutive double-faults. After the fifth game, Verkerk received treatment to his right shoulder and upper-arm, after which he played well enough to break back to 5-5, helped by two double-faults.

Verkerk's serve let him down decisively in 11th game, two double-faults leaving him hanging at 5-6. Kafelnikov saved a break point at 30-40 before serving out the match.

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