Tennis in state of shock as Federer blows a Gasquet

It was supposed to be business as usual yesterday for Roger Federer, the Wimbledon champion, when most of the Principality came to a halt for Prince Rainier's funeral. It turned out to be anything but.

It was supposed to be business as usual yesterday for Roger Federer, the Wimbledon champion, when most of the Principality came to a halt for Prince Rainier's funeral. It turned out to be anything but.

Federer's game was slightly off, probably because of battle-fatigue, and the world No 1 was beaten for only the second time this year - this time by an 18-year-old French qualifier, Richard Gasquet.

Gasquet, who previously caused a stir at the Monte Carlo Masters in 2002 by reached the second round at the age of 15, saved three match points before advancing to the semi-finals. He won on his third match point, 10-8 in a third-set tie-break.

Ranked No 101, Gasquet's successes usually come in the lower leagues of ATP events, and he has yet to win a match in one of the four Grand Slam tournaments.

Before yesterday, Federer had won 25 matches in a row since losing to Marat Safin, of Russia, in the semi-finals at the Australian Open in January. His winning sequence brought him titles in Dubai and at the Masters Series events on the American rubberised-concrete courts in Indian Wells and Key Biscayne.

In the Key Biscayne final, however, Federer was within two points of losing to another 18-year-old, the sturdy Rafael Nadal, of Spain. Federer recovered from two sets down to prevail in five.

A neat touch of symmetry now brings Gasquet and Nadal together today to duel for a place in tomorrow's final against either Guillermo Coria, of Argentina, the defending champion, or Juan Carlos Ferrero, of Spain.

Nadal dismantled the French Open champion, Gaston Guadio, of Argentina, 6-3, 6-0, in the quarter-finals yesterday.

Gasquet's victory, 6-7, 6-2, 7-6, on the picturesque Centre Court overlooking the Mediterranean, stunned the spectators, who had expected nothing more than a game effort from the French youngster.

It was only the second defeat the 23-year-old Federer has suffered in 53 matches since the Athens Olympic Games last August.

Yesterday's match seemed to be taking an expected course as Federer led 2-0 in the opening set for the loss of only two points. But Gasquet, showing commendable nous in his tactics and enormous spirit in his approach to the challenge, soon rid himself of nerves and settled into what developed into a splendid contest.

Everybody knows that Federer's backhand can be his only weakness, but many experienced campaigners have attacked it and failed. Gasquet made it his target, but not at the expense of other options.

He recovered the early break in the third game, continued to press and broke a second time for 4-3. Although Federer pulled back to 4-4, it was not until the tie break that the Swiss looked even reasonably comfortable. He won that first shoot-out, 7-1.

That would be enough to deter many opponents, but Gasquet used his clay-court skills to counter Federer's greater experience and talent. They exchanged three breaks of serve early in the second set and Gasquet made a decisive third break in the eighth game.

Not content with that, the French youngster swept through the opening three games of the final set and served for the match. He missed his first match point with a drive volley that almost hit the backstop, and Federer managed to break for 5-5.

The umpire intervened with an over-rule to give Gasqauet his second match point, at 5-4, which Federer saved with a smash.

When it came to the tie-break, Federer had match points at 6-5, 7-6 and 8-7, only to be beaten by a superb backhand pass down the line on Gasquet's third match point after two hours, 19 minutes. The man of the moment's word to describe his feelings was "fabulous". He added "I still don't know where I am. And probably won't until tomorrow."

* In Charleston, South Carolina, the French teenager Tatiana Golovin, defeater of defending champion Venus Williams, continued her giant-killing run at the Family Circle Cup as she beat the seventh seed, Nadia Petrova, of Russia, 7-5, 6-3 to become the first player into the semi-finals.

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