Roger Federer never won the title at Rome Masters, losing three finals to Rafael Nadal and Felix Mantilla. In 2009, Federer reached the semi-final at Foro Italico and faced the defending champion, Novak Djokovic. After two hours and 11 minutes, Djokovic beat Federer 4-6, 6-3, 6-3, delivering his fourth victory over the Swiss and the first on the slowest surface.
Federer had a massive chance to cross the finish line first, playing on a high level in the opener and forging a 3-1 lead in sets two and three. Still, that was not enough to propel him home, as he lost ground after the rain delay in the second set and again after moving in front in the decider.
The Swiss had momentum, serving well in the opening set and seizing the fifth break chance at 4-4 to forge the lead. The Swiss broke early in the second set, produced a comfortable hold and created more opportunities on the return in the third game that could have pushed him closer to the finish line.
Roger Federer shared thoughts about 2009 Rome semi-final against Novak Djokovic.
Novak somehow survived that third game, and then the rain sent them away from the court for 70 minutes. Once they returned, the Serb acted like a better-prepared player, hitting with more energy and stealing Roger's serve in games six and eight before closing the set with a hold at love for 6-3.
Federer recovered and produced two comfortable service games at the beginning of the decider and broke Djokovic at 15 in game four to open a 3-1 lead when Novak's forehand landed away from the court. In a pivotal moment, Djokovic broke back at love in game five with a forehand crosscourt winner and leveled the score at 3-3 with a good hold.
Novak had momentum in those moments, and he broke Federer in games seven and nine to seal the deal and advance into the title clash against Rafael Nadal. Federer felt disappointed after wasting such a massive lead before the rain, especially had he claimed the third game and opened a 3-0 advantage.
Roger also noted that the rain delay came in a perfect moment for his rival, who was a different player once they returned to the court. "I was in good shape, and it's a shame I did not the second break before the rain delay.
Novak had more energy when we returned, as he was pretty flat before the break. Suddenly, it became a different match, and he was the better rival. I should have held at least once; then, I would have had a better opportunity.
I had the win on my racquet, and it's disappointing. The rain delay came at a perfect moment for Novak because he came through a tough service game at 2-0 down. Instead of going 3-0 down, he held to reduce the deficit, and then the rain comes, and he's got something positive to look at.
When we came back, the conditions changed, and it helped him. But then again, who knows. He might have come back anyway and beat me in the end. He did well today to use the rain delay in his favor, that's for sure. My serve is not working as before, and it did not help me in some crucial moments.
I missed timing after the break; the conditions got wormer, and the ball flew more than before. Honestly, I do not think I lost the match because of my backhand," Roger Federer said.