Roger Federer won his first Wimbledon crown in 2003 and kicked off a stellar journey towards the ATP throne, becoming world no. 1 after lifting the second Major trophy in Melbourne at the beginning of 2004. Those were the times where the gap between the players from the top and the rest of the field was still not that big, and Roger made a name for himself and proved why he would rule the world of tennis in the next four years.
After Melbourne, the Swiss won titles in Dubai, Indian Wells and Hamburg to distance himself from the chasing group, suffering the only setback at Roland Garros where the former champion Gustavo Kuerten halted him in the third round.
It was time for grass, and Roger was back at his best, defending titles in Halle and Wimbledon while making a quick transition from grass to clay to conquer the home event in Gstaad. After a deserved break, Federer was back on the court in Toronto, winning the fourth Masters 1000 crown thanks to a 7-5, 6-3 triumph over world no.
2 Andy Roddick. Thus, the Swiss star became the first player since Bjorn Borg in 1979 with three ATP titles in a row on three different surfaces (the Swede followed a similar path, taking Wimbledon, Bastad, and Toronto)! Federer was at the office in Cincinnati two days after winning his maiden title in Canada, facing Dominik Hrbaty in the first round (the top seeds did not receive a bye in the first round back then).
The Slovak stunned the world's best player 1-6, 7-6, 6-4 in an hour and 50 minutes and broke Roger's streak of 23 consecutive wins! It was Federer's career-best run at that moment, and the defeat came as a big surprise considering his form and how he won the opening set.
Thanks to that first part, Roger won 11 points more than the Hrbaty, but not the crucial ones, especially in set number two. The Swiss had ten break chances but converted only two in the first set, as Dominik did a great job of fending off all the others.
The Slovak stayed in touch until that crucial break in the decider's ninth game pushed him through.
Roger Federer lost for the first time in 24 matches in Cincinnati 2004.
Roger got broken once, although that lone break proved enough for Dominik to notch a notable triumph.
The first set was a one-sided affair, with Federer breaking twice to take it 6-1 in swift 25 minutes. Hrbaty raised the level in the second set, but Roger still had the opportunities to wrap up the encounter in straight sets.
He earned chances in the third and fifth games, only to squander them all and fail to deliver the final punch. Dominik won the tie break 9-7 when Roger hit a backhand drive volley long and gathered momentum ahead of the decider.
They stayed neck and neck in the final set until that ninth game when Roger lost serve, allowing Dominik to seal the deal a few minutes later and cross the finish line. After that strong opening set, Roger started to miss some easy shots and did not play like a man chasing the 24th consecutive triumph on the Tour.
Interestingly, Federer could have become the first player since Pete Sampras in 1999 with 24 straight wins but had to wait for another opportunity to achieve that. It was his earliest exit since Roland Garros 2003, and we were yet to see the Swiss at his best in Ohio, standing on one victory from four editions.
It would all change from 2005 when Roger began his domination, winning the record-breaking seven titles in Ohio, the last one in 2015.