Twelve months after making Dubai debut in 2002, Roger Federer was back in the desert as the top-10 player and the Masters 1000 champion, standing as one of the favorites and defeating Jiri Novak 6-1, 7-6 on March 2, 2003, for his sixth ATP title.
The previous season was very successful for the young Swiss, conquering three ATP crowns and entering the elite ten a day after conquering the first Masters 1000 trophy in Hamburg in May, setting even higher goals in 2003 when he secured his first Grand Slam crown at Wimbledon.
Roger lost in the fourth round of the Australian Open to David Nalbandian in five sets before scoring two Davis Cup wins and an ATP title in Marseille, ending the winning streak with the semi-final loss to Max Mirnyi in Rotterdam.
Taking no rest, Roger flew to Dubai where he was the top seed ahead of Marat Safin, Jiri Novak and Tim Henman, facing Irakli Labadze in the opening round and claiming a 6-3, 6-3 win in 63 minutes. Federer lost serve once and broke Irakli four times for the place in the last 16 where he toppled an unknown German Maximilian Abel 6-4, 7-5 in 80 minutes after converting three break chances.
Hicham Arazi managed to break Roger's twice in the quarter-final, with the Swiss responding with four good return games to sail into the semi-final where he dismissed Ivan Ljubicic 6-3, 6-2 in 55 minutes. Ivan won just eight points on the return and Roger marched towards the finish line with three breaks on his tally, setting up the final meeting with the 3rd seed Jiri Novak.
It was their seventh encounter on the Tour (the Czech was the first player to beat Roger Federer at Wimbledon in 1999) and Federer forged a 6-1, 7-6 triumph in an hour and 16 minutes despite serving at record-low 39%! Novak created just two break chances, converting both but getting broken four times from nine opportunities offered to Roger, falling 7-2 in the tie break to send the youngster over the top and towards the sixth ATP title.
Federer was the more aggressive player on the court and that earned the victory for him, having the advantage in the mid-range and most extended exchanges to cross the finish line first and lift the first Dubai crown. Jiri sprayed a forehand error in the second game to experience an early setback, finding himself 5-1 down when Roger broke him for the second time in game six.
Serving for the opener, Federer blasted a forehand winner for a 6-1, looking good to bring the victory home in no time at all. Novak bounced back at the start of the second set, breaking Roger after a long rally in game two but staying in front only for a couple of minutes, as Federer broke back a few minutes later to erase the deficit.
The Swiss wasn't in a good rhythm after that strong opening set, giving serve away at love to trail 3-1 but coming back with a forehand winner in the next game to stay on the positive side of the scoreboard. Novak saved a break chance at 5-5 to reach the tie break that Federer claimed 7-2 after a backhand crosscourt winner, celebrating the second ATP 500 title after Vienna last fall.