Roger Federer skipped the first couple of weeks on clay in 2003, but it was not easy to stop him once he stepped on the red courts. The Swiss claimed the title in Munich, beating all five rivals in under five hours and building confidence ahead of the Masters 1000 event in Rome, where he did not have good results in the past.
It all changed that year, as Roger played on a high level to advance into the third Masters 1000 final. Juan Carlos Ferrero retired in the semi-final, but Roger could not go all the way in the title clash after suffering a 7-5, 6-2, 7-6 loss to Felix Mantilla in two hours and 41 minutes.
Mantilla saved 14 out of 17 break chances and delivered better tennis when it mattered the most. The Spaniard prevailed in sets one and three to seal the deal in straight sets and earn the tenth and last ATP title, the first at the Masters 1000 level.
The Spaniard grabbed just seven points more than the Swiss, having the upper hand in the shortest and mid-range exchanges. Federer was more efficient in the most advanced rallies, but not enough to take at least a set. Roger wasted his opportunities in the opening set’s closing stages.
He got broken in the worst possible moment at 5-6 to hand the set to his rival. The youngster dropped the next eight games from 2-0 up in set number two to find himself 7-5, 6-2, 2-0 down, propelling Mantilla closer to the finish line.
Roger Federer played in three consecutive weeks on clay in 2003.
Suddenly, Federer started to play better and rattled off four straight games to open a 4-2 lead in the third, looking good to take the set after serving for it at 5-4.
Nonetheless, he squandered two set points to keep the rival in the set, with Mantilla repelling no less than seven break chances in the 11th game. Roger saved two match points in the tie break, missed a slice backhand on his set point and sent a forehand long at 8-9 to push the rival over the top.
Despite the fatigue, the Swiss confirmed he would play in Hamburg next week, not pulling out that easily and wanting to chase the title defense. “I have been playing for two weeks, and the body started to hurt already a couple of days ago.
I will travel to Hamburg and play; I’m the defending champion, and I do not pull out for some small reasons. I did not feel I lost eight straight games but that it just did not go my way, despite doing the right things on the court.
I’m walking off the court, and I felt like he had to win today; all the big points went his way. It’s not easy to accept that because I worked hard to make a comeback in sets two and three. In the end, I have to say he played a good match and deserved to win,” Roger Federer said.