Roger Federer made a strong start of his 2003 clay-court swing, winning the title in Munich in dominant style to take home the seventh ATP crown. With no time for celebration, the 21-year-old went south and entered the Masters 1000 event in Rome, where he did not play well in the past.
That all changed, as Roger beat Paul-Henri Mathieu, Mariano Zabaleta, Tommy Robredo, Filippo Volandri and Juan Carlos Ferrero. The Swiss dropped one set en route to his third Masters 1000 final and the second in a row on clay after Hamburg 2002.
Hoping to win back-to-back titles on the slowest surface, Federer faced Felix Mantilla and suffered a 7-5, 6-2, 7-6 loss in two hours and 41 minutes. Thus, Roger lost the first match since Miami and switched focus on the title defense in Hamburg.
Mantilla fended off 14 out of 17 break chances, stayed composed when it mattered the most and sealed the deal in straight sets for his tenth and last ATP title, also the first on the Masters 1000 level. The Spaniard won just seven points more than the Swiss and forged the advantage in the shortest and mid-range exchanges.
At the same time, Federer had the upper hand in the most advanced rallies, not enough to take at least a set. Roger wasted his opportunities in the opening set and got broken in the worst moment at 5-6.
Roger Federer lost the 2003 Rome final to Felix Mantilla in straight sets.
He opened a 2-0 advantage in set number two, only to drop the next eight games and find himself 7-5, 6-2, 2-0 down, propelling Mantilla closer to the finish line.
Suddenly, Federer grabbed four straight games to open a 4-2 advantage in the third set, serving for it at 5-4 and squandering two sets points to bring Felix back to 5-5. The Spaniard fended off no less than seven break chances in the 11th game to set up a tie break.
Federer saved two match points and missed a slice backhand on the set point before sending a forehand long at 8-9 to push the rival over the top. "It's always terrible when you miss your chances early on. When you waste the first five break chances, it gets to your head mentally.
I always played well until the break points, 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 in that way. Also, I led in sets two and three and lost 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 have to understand that a good stroke would not mean you will be in a better position on the court. You have to watch out how you play," Roger Federer said.