Nineteen years ago, Roger Federer claimed the first Masters 1000 crown in Hamburg, beating Marat Safin in the title clash. Roger experienced another solid run on the slowest surface next spring, winning the title in Munich in dominant style to lift the seventh ATP crown.
With no time to celebrate, the 21-year-old traveled south and entered the Masters 1000 event in Rome, seeking first notable results in the Italian capital. Roger found his A-game in Rome that year, beating Paul-Henri Mathieu, Mariano Zabaleta, Tommy Robredo, Filippo Volandri and Juan Carlos Ferrero en route to his third Masters 1000 final and the second on clay.
Hoping to win back-to-back titles on the slowest surface, Federer faced the Spaniard Felix Mantilla and suffered a 7-5, 6-2, 7-6 defeat in two hours and 41 minutes, losing for the first time since Miami and switching his focus on the title defense in Hamburg.
Mantilla fended off 14 out of 17 break chances to stay composed when it mattered the most for his tenth and last ATP title, also the first on the Masters 1000 level!
Roger Federer lost the Rome 2003 final to Felix Mantilla despite having chances.
The Spaniard won just seven points more than the Swiss and forged the advantage in the shortest and mid-range exchanges.
Federer had the upper hand in the most advanced rallies, which was not enough to take at least a set and prolong the match. Roger wasted his opportunities in the opening set and got broken in the worst moment at 5-6. He then opened a 2-0 advantage in set number two and dropped the next eight games to find himself 7-5, 6-2, 2-0 down and propel Mantilla closer to the finish line.
Out of a sudden, the Swiss grabbed four straight games to open a 4-2 advantage in the third set and served for it at 5-4. The youngster squandered two sets points to bring Felix back to 5-5 and lose steam. The Spaniard fended off no less than seven break chances in the 11th game to set up a tie break, where Federer saved two match points.
Roger missed a slice backhand on the set point and sent a forehand long at 8-9 to push the rival over the top and finish runner-up. "It's always terrible when you miss your chances early on. When you waste the first five break chances or so, it gets to your head mentally.
I played well to earn break chances, and then I would fall; I do not understand why, as I tried to remain aggressive. It did not go my way, and it's very disappointing to lose a set that way. Also, I led in sets two and three and dropped them both, which is extremely frustrating.
Mantilla plays the patient game, not rushing anything and doing the same things all the time; it's a bit boring if you ask me. It does not matter if you hit a good or bad shot; the ball comes back the same way. You must realize that a good stroke won't mean you will be better positioned on the court," Roger Federer said.