Seventeen years ago, Roger Federer claimed his first Dubai crown, using a favorable draw before the final and toppling Jiri Novak to seal the deal without losing a set. A couple of months later, the young Swiss conquered Halle and Wimbledon, mastering the fastest surface and adding the first Major trophy to his collection.
Roger had the opportunity to become world no. 1 that summer but that had to wait until February 2004, just a day after winning his first Australian Open title following the triumphs over other notable youngsters, Lleyton Hewitt, David Nalbandian, Juan Carlos Ferrero and Marat Safin to claim the ATP throne.
With no time for rest, Federer flew back to Europe to deliver two Davis Cup singles wins over Romania, losing in the quarter-final in Rotterdam and taking some time to rest ahead of Dubai where he was the defending champion.
A month after beating him in Melbourne, Roger faced Marat Safin in the first round and stayed on the court for two hours, fending off nine out of 11 break chances to remain in touch and taking both tie breaks to prevail in straight sets and avoid an upset.
In round two, on March 4, Roger took down Tommy Robredo 6-3, 6-4 in an hour and 28 minutes to stay on the title course, delivering the fifth triumph over the Spaniard in as many matches and taking all 11 sets against another promising youngster on the Tour.
Federer erased all three break chances to mount the pressure on the other side of the net, seizing one break in each set from 12 opportunities in total to cross the finish line and advance into the last eight. The Swiss grabbed the first break in game four thanks to a forehand winner after a 24-shot rally, with Robredo earning a chance to break back after a beautiful backhand down the line winner in the next game.
Roger saved a break point with a forehand winner and landed another one to bring the game home and extend the lead to a 4-1. In the ninth game, Federer erased a break chance with an ace, sealing the opening set after forcing an error from Robredo for a 6-3.
The Spaniard got broken at 2-2 in set number two, surviving another tough service game at 2-4 and staying within one break deficit before Roger sealed the deal with a hold in game ten to move into the quarters.