Federer's struggles continue in loss at Rome

May 10, 2007 - 9:49 PM ROME (Ticker) -- Roger Federer is suddenly fallible.

Federer, the world's best player, was unceremoniously dumped by crowd favorite Filippo Volandri in straight sets in a third-round match Thursday at the $2.83 million ATP Masters Series Rome.

The top-seeded Federer suffered a 6-2, 6-4 loss to Volandri, the world's 53rd-ranked player whose only two career titles have come on clay. Their only previous meeting came in this event four years ago, with Federer winning in three sets.

Federer clearly was off his game, committing 44 unforced errors against just 12 winners and landing just 44 percent of his first serves in his worst loss since a 6-3, 6-3 setback to Spanish star Rafael Nadal in Miami in 2004.

"I had a bad start to the match, no doubt," Federer said. "I got broken twice, missed my opportunities in the second game, and after that I was always running behind the score."

This will be the fourth straight tournament without a title for Federer - his longest drought since becoming No. 1 over three years ago. He carried a staggering 41-match winning streak into Indian Wells two months ago but is just 7-4 since.

Federer lost twice on hard courts to Guillermo Canas in March and was beaten by Nadal in the final at Monte Carlo, also a claycourt event.

The Swiss superstar has won 10 Grand Slams but never has claimed the French Open, which starts later this month. Clay has always been the surface where Federer seems beatable.

Last week, Federer lost an exhibition match to Nadal that was played on a court with one side grass and the other clay.

"I was the first player to arrive, so I've been practicing more than anybody here in Rome," he said. "My preparation was perfect. I played a good first (match), so of course it's disappointing to play like this is the second (match)."

It was jubilation for Volandri, who dropped to the dirty red surface after winning match point, then took a victory lap, high-fiving fans who had been chanting his name throughout the match.

"It's the best match of my life," the Italian said. "To beat this guy here in Rome is the biggest emotion I've ever felt."

As always, Federer was gracious in defeat.

"Filippo played well. Let's not forget get that," he said. "He made it hard for me. Everybody's just talking about how I played, but he played very well. He didn't miss much."

Federer was not the only seed eliminated Thursday. No. 3 Andy Roddick also exited in straight sets, a 6-0, 6-4 victim of claycourt specialist Juan Ignacio Chela of Argentina.

A day earlier, Roddick had been saying how he enjoys the challenge of clay courts, not a familiar surface in American tennis. He found himself eliminated by Chela, who has won all four of his career titles on clay.

As expected, Nadal had no such problems, breezing past 15th-seeded Mikhail Youzhny of Russia, 6-2, 6-2, for his 74th straight win on clay.

The two-time defending champion of this event, Nadal next meets fifth-seeded Novak Djokovic, who eliminated Marcos Baghdatis of Cyprus, 6-2, 7-5. The rising Russian star won at Miami and has reached the final in three other events, losing to Nadal at Indian Wells.

Fourth-seeded Nikolay Davydenko of Russia rallied for a 4-6, 6-2, 7-5 victory over Potito Starace of France. In the quarterfinals, he will meet seventh-seeded Tommy Robredo of Spain, a 6-2, 6-2 winner over Gilles Simon of France.

Volandri will face 12th-seeded Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic, who blasted Jose Acasuso of Argentina, 6-1, 6-2.

Chela will play sixth-seeded Fernando Gonzalez of Chile, who overtook compatriot Nicolas Massu, 6-7 (4-7), 6-3, 6-4. Gonzalez was a surprise finalist at the Australian Open, losing to Federer.

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