ROME: Red-bearded buccaneer Felix Mantilla saved face for Spains tennis armada yesterday as he assured the clay kings a spot in the final of the Rome Masters, salvaging a win over Yevgeny Kafelnikov 4-6, 7-6 (7-3), 6-4.
The unseeded Mantilla, 28, who credits mountain training with giving him the stamina to battle for nearly three hours against double Grand Slam winner Kafelnikov, will play in the match of his career today, taking on fourth-seeded favourite Roger Federer.
The 21-year-old Swiss will have the fitness edge over the Iberian veteran after spending less than an hour to seal victory when 2001 winner and second seed Juan Carlos Ferrero had to quit with an arm injury in their semi-final.
The 6-2, 4-2 result handed Federer his 10th straight clay win of the season with only one set lost on the way to a title in Munich and the best-of-five final at the Foro Italico.
Federer will spot the Spaniard seven years in age and a much easier working week on court.
Its not only Spaniards who can play well on clay, said Federer, winner of three ATP titles in 2003. Others of us can also, maybe not quite as consistently, but weve also showed we can win on clay.
Federer called reaching a second consecutive title match after last week in Munich something special.
It feels good, Masters events are tough, you play six matches in seven days and it takes a lot out of you. Ill try my best, give all I have and hope there is a little bit left for (next weeks Masters title defence in) Hamburg.
Federer held onto his lead in ATP season match wins chase with 36. Ferrero, holder of clay titles from two of his previous three tournaments, said he is pulling out of Hamburg and will rest an arm muscle inflammation problem for much of next week under doctors orders.
Five weeks in a row on clay is too much, the 23-year-old Spaniard said of his over-optimistic spring schedule. Ferrero admitted he felt stinging pain while serving in the seventh game of the opening set, which he lost to trail Federer 2-5.
At the beginning I was 100% today, but in the second set I preferred to stop. If Im not fit, I wont enjoy the match and I cannot play well. It was better to quit.
The match was momentarily disrupted in the second set.
Serving to level at 3-3, the match was interrupted when - as Federer questioned a call - a serial prankster began to throw condoms at the players while yelling in Italian.
The notorious local AIDS activist was quickly carted off by security. Ferrero, meanwhile, dropped serve to trail 2-4 moments before retiring. dpa