Felix Mantilla says he feels like a gladiator when playing in Rome, but that staunch persona melted away in tears as the Spaniard was awarded his first Masters Series title.
The 47th-ranked Mantilla stunned the Foro Italico crowd Sunday by beating fourth-seeded Roger Federer of Switzerland 7-5, 6-2, 7-6 (8) to win the US$2.75 million Italian Open.
"When I come to Rome I always feel like a gladiator in the Colosseum," Mantilla said repeatedly through his championship run. "The people enjoy watching me. I'm just running and fighting all the time."
Mantilla's victory Sunday was indeed a gladiatorial performance, as the Spaniard scrambled in the 33-degree C heat to contend each of the vast array of shots the aggressive Federer threw at him.
"He never looked for the outright winner. He plays very patient," Federer said. "It doesn't matter if you hit a good or a bad shot. The ball comes back the same way."
While Mantilla was relentless in his defense, Federer seemed to be playing mainly against himself, trying to break his opponent's serve with repeated angled shots that often went wide, thus producing 69 unforced errors against the Spaniard's 31.
In the first set Federer had several chances to go ahead, but his attempts at hurriedly ending the long exchanges the Spaniard forced upon him meant he failed to deliver on seven break points.
"Maybe I was a little lucky. Normally a guy like him, who has experience in finals, could have taken it," Mantilla said. "And that was the key, I think. Because after that my confidence went up and his was a little bit down.
The Williams sisters weren't there, but Justine Henin-Hardenne may have just shown Sunday she's a top favorite to win the French Open anyhow.
The Belgian player fought off three match points and became the first player in nine years to defend the title at the German Open, taking a 6-4, 4-6, 7-5 victory over Kim Clijsters.
The 1.67m Henin-Hardenne has lost seven of 10 matches against Clijsters, but holds a 3-1 record against the world No. 2 on clay. She's also beaten No. 1 Serena Williams twice during the past year on the surface.
"I think she's the best out there on clay," Clijsters said.
"It's my best surface for sure," said Henin-Hardenne, ranked fourth. "Maybe because the other players don't have as much power against me on clay."
The slender Belgian player and Clijsters struggled for two hours, 15 minutes before Clijsters hit a forehand long, losing the last game at love after she wasted the three match points while leading 5-4.
"It's unbelievable, for sure, with the match points," Henin-Hardenne said. "I just said you have to play your best tennis now. You have nothing to lose."