In Roger Federer's words: 'Clay is not my favorite surface and I'm surprised to..'



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In Roger Federer's words: 'Clay is not my favorite surface and I'm surprised to..'

Roger Federer won the first Masters 1000 title on clay in Hamburg in 2002, cracking the top-10 on the next day and closing the season in the top-6, having a chance to compete at the Masters Cup for the first time. In 2003, Roger made an even stronger push towards the very top of the standings, lifting seven titles overall, including his first Major crown at Wimbledon.

From 58 triumphs in 2002, Federer raised the bar to grab 78 a year later, winning Marseille and Dubai and taking a break after Miami to get ready for the clay-court events in May. In his first stop on the clay-court swing that spring, Federer competed in Munich for the first and only time, dominating over five opponents and dropping 27 games in ten sets en route to the seventh ATP title.

The Swiss found a perfect balance between necessary defensive skills and his usual aggressive approach in Bavaria, suffering five breaks and spending less than five hours on the court overall to lift the trophy. Zeljko Krajan fell 6-4, 6-3 in 65 minutes, breaking Federer twice while giving serve away four times to send Roger into the last 16.

The Swiss scored identical triumph over Raemon Sluiter in swift 59 minutes to find himself in the quarters where he took down the only top-30 player on his path that week Mikhail Youzhny 6-2, 6-3 in 61 minutes. Roger gifted just 11 points in nine service games and Mikhail was nowhere near that level, allowing Federer to earn three breaks and race into the last four where he faced Stefan Koubek.

The Austrian couldn't match the pace of the young Swiss either, squandering all six break points and dropping more than half of the points behind the initial shot to hand Federer four breaks of serve and propel him into the 13th ATP final at the age of 21.

A good friend Jarkko Nieminen stood between world no. 5 and the trophy on May 4 and just like the previous four players, he had no chance against Roger, losing 6-1, 6-4 in 56 minutes in what was his fourth ATP final. Nieminen made a solid base, landing 80% of the first serve in and taking Roger's serve away twice, ruining all that with poor performance in his service games, offering nine break opportunities to the Swiss and failing to save five of them to propel Roger over the finish line.

Federer had many more winners and fewer unforced errors, dominating in the shortest exchanges and forging the lead in the longest ones as well to deserve the triumph and lift the seventh ATP title in no time at all. Roger scored a break already in game two and that set the tone for the rest of the opener, securing two more in the games that followed for a 6-1.

The Finn bounced back in set number two, racing into a 3-0 lead and dropping the next three games as easy as he won the previous ones. At 4-4, Federer grabbed the crucial break and held after a deuce for a 6-4 and the crown, the third that year that would only get better two months later at Wimbledon when he claimed the maiden Grand Slam title.

"Clay is not my favorite surface and I'm surprised to be playing so well after just a few weeks of training," Federer said.