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Rain plays havoc with men's semis

Reigning men's champion Federer was within two games of another final when the rain returned

LONDON, England -- Swiss powerhouse Roger Federer was halted by the rain as he swept towards a second straight final at Wimbledon on Friday.

Holder Federer had successfully shrugged off a day of distractions from the weather and was looking solid at 6-2 6-3 4-3 against seventh seed Sebastien Grosjean of France.

Andy Roddick was leading the Croatian Mario Ancic 6-4 6-3 in the second semifinal which had been switched from Centre to No. 1 court.

But after little more than an hour of play overall, more rain arrived to drive the matches off court.

Unlike the French Open, whose clay still allows play in light drizzle, grass becomes ultra-slick and unsafe at the first drops from the sky.

The event lost two complete days of play last week as calls increase for a project to finally put a moveable, transparent roof over the Centre Court to be fast-tracked.

The structure is not scheduled to be ready until 2009 after only recently receiving planning permission.

The tournament risks falling behind schedule if the semifinals cannot be concluded on time.

Three years ago, a similar situation forced a Monday men's final, with Goran Ivanisevic beating Australian Patrick Rafter.

Saturday is scheduled as women's finals day, with Serena Williams bidding for a third straight title and Russian teenager Maria Sharapova out to stop her.

Rain arrives

Play in Federer's match, which began on time at 1300 GMT, was interrupted after little more than 20 minutes in the sixth game with the Swiss leading 3-2.

The players were unable to strike a ball again for more than four hours, finally resuming as evening closed in.

Federer was dominating early against Grosjean, whom he last played - and defeated - in 2001. The Swiss has won his last 22 matches on grass, his last loss on the surface coming here in the 2002 first round.

The man who dispatched him two years ago, Croatian Ancic, was putting up a fight against second seed Roddick.

Federer calmly finished off the opening set against Grosjean with an effortless smash after 31 minutes of actual play and five-and-a-quarter hours after the first ball of the match was served.

With weather the day's dominating factor, the top seed was unwilling to waste much time on formalities against Grosjean, playing his second straight semifinal here.

Federer struck with a break for 4-3 in the second set as he took control with the sun breaking through for the first extended period of the day.

The solid top seed jumped on another opportunity as the shaky Grosjean chipped long to yield a set point, which Federer cemented from another French error to take a stranglehold on the match after little more than an hour.

Federer showed class as he escaped from the bother of 0-30 to start the third set and stood comfortably in control on serve when the rain returned.

The man who dispatched Federer two years ago, Croatian Ancic, had his troubles with second seed Roddick.

U.S. Open champion Roddick earned a break for 5-4 as he passed Ancic, who hammered volley returns like a wall at the net.

Roddick saved a pair of break points in the ensuing game to collect the first set 6-4 which he celebrated with clenched fists and a scream of joy.

But Ancic hung tough in the second set, holding a break against the seed at the interruption.

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