by Craig Hickman
Filippo Volandri made history today. With his 6-2, 6-3 dismantling of Tomas Berdych in the semifinals at the Foro Italico this afternoon, Pippo became the first Italian since Adriano Panatta in 1978 to make the final four at the Italian Open. Surely, the tournament director couldn't feel better about giving Volandri a wildcard into the main draw.
Another day, another upset. Suffering no letdown after yesterday's shock victory over Roger Federer, Pippo never gave Berydch, who'd won their last 3 claycourt encounters, an opportunity to breathe. Using acute angles to stretch the big Czech wide in both courts, a tactic that made Roger's movement look pedestrian, Volandri drew errors or short replies that he could put away with his trademark backhand.
What I like most about Volandri, who relishes the atmosphere of playing in front of his home crowd, is his upright carriage. Here is a man who believes, against all odds, that he can win this title. Whether he does or not is beside the point. His belief has allowed him to dismiss the when-is-he-going-to-realize-his-potential French hope Richard Gasquet; humiliate the world's best player with ease; and force the No. 12 seed to look up with resignation to his camp after almost every point.
Volandri didn't face a single break point.
"It's another decisive result, which means opponents are having trouble against me because I'm playing at such a high level," he said. "I had a little bit more pressure than yesterday, but I played another perfect match."
This is the stuff of everyday legend. While the rest of the tennis world is reeling, still trying to figure out how the Greatest could have lost (afterall, he's got that Roland Garros crown to win so he can finally prove worthy of the Greatest of All Time label that has been yelled at him by so many, so loudly, for so long that his ears are bleeding), his vanquisher has gone about his business and backed up his victory, letting those who haven't given Volandri enough (or any) credit know that excellence doesn't just come in overhyped packages.
And speaking of overhyped packages. Novak Djokovic was no match for Rafael Nadal whose comfortable 6-2, 6-3 victory extended his winning streak on clay to 75 matches, tying John McEnroe's streak on indoor carpet, the longest on any single surface in the Open Era.
And speaking of John McEnroe. He sat courtside to witness Rafa tie his streak. Apparently, the Djoke has asked JMac to consider coaching him. But that's a discussion for another time.
In the other quarterfinals, No. 3 seed Nikolay Davydenko outlasted Tommy Robredo 1-6, 6-3, 6-3 and Fernando Gonzalez was too much power and slice for Juan Ignacio Chela, winning their match 6-3, 6-4. Gonzo will face the Italian dream in one semifinal; Davydenko will try to slay the giant in the other. I may do a semifinal preview when I return from dinner later. I may not.
Meantime, enjoy Pippo's historic day.