Roger Federer got off to a strong start on his clay court tour in 2003, winning the title in Munich in commanding style to take home the seventh ATP crown. With no time to celebrate, the 21-year-old headed south and entered the Masters 1000 event in Rome, where he hasn’t played well in the past.
All that changed when Roger beat Paul-Henri Mathieu, Mariano Zabaleta, Tommy Robredo, Filippo Volandri and Juan Carlos Ferrero. The Swiss dropped a set en route to his third Masters 1000 final and second in a row on clay after Hamburg 2002.
Hoping to win back-to-back titles on the slower surface, Federer faced Felix Mantilla and suffered a 7-5, 6-2, 7-6 loss in two hours and 41 minutes. Thus, Roger lost the first match since Miami and shifted his focus to defending the title in Hamburg.
Mantilla fended off 14 of 17 break chances, remaining composed when it mattered most and sealing the deal in straight sets for his 10th and final ATP title, also his first at the Masters 1000 level. The Spaniard won just seven points more than the Swiss and forged the advantage in the shortest and middle rallies.
At the same time, Federer had the advantage in the later rallies, not enough to take at least a set. Roger wasted his chances in the first set and broke at the worst moment at 5-6. He opened up a 2-0 lead in set number two, only to lose the next eight games and find himself trailing 7-5, 6-2, 2-0, pushing Mantilla closer to the finish line.
Suddenly, Federer took four games in a row to open up a 4-2 lead in the third set, serving at 5-4 and wasting two set points to bring Felix back to 5-5. The Spaniard fended off no less than seven break chances in the eleventh game to set up a tie break.
Andy Roddick praises King Roger
In a recent podcast, former World No. 1 Andy Roddick discussed his respect for Roger Federer. “It’s his ease of operation, right?” Roddick said. “If the way that he’s able to go about his business, I would, you know, play a practice match, be out there for two hours.
I’d play it just like I was gonna play three days later in the first run of a slam and I’d walk by Roger’s court and he’s laughing and joking. And he is relaxed. That was where my jealousy came in: the way that he was able to kind of tend to his responsibilities away from the court, kind of always be in a good mood, which was incredibly annoying for the rest of us moody people,” he added.