After reaching the quarter-final in Monte Carlo in the spring of 2001, the young Swiss Roger Federer delivered two more wins in Rome, beating Thomas Johannson in the deciding set tie break in the first round to set the clash against world no.
2 Marat Safin. It was the first official meeting between two talented youngsters and Federer ousted the US Open champion 4-6, 6-4, 7-6 in two hours and 42 minutes, bouncing back from a set and a break down to advance into the last 16.
The Swiss won three points more than the Russian, fending off ten out of 13 break chances and earning three successful return games from five opportunities, hitting more winners than Marat and forging a small edge in the most extended exchanges.
Safin had a 6-4, 3-2 advantage before Federer pulled the break back immediately, surviving five deuces in the ninth game of the second set and stealing Marat's serve in the next game to take the set and force a decider.
There, they traded early breaks and served well in the rest of the set to reach a tie break that Roger clinched 7-5, sealing the deal with an ace to grab a notable victory on clay and reach the next round. "Well, Marat and I have already practiced a couple of times and we have a lot of funny rallies because we hit the ball very hard.
Today was fine to play each other in an official match and see what happens. I had actually a lot of fun today playing against Marat because he's not in his top form; still, it is excellent for me to come out with a win against him, especially on clay.
He had some great results on the slowest surface. We are both very young and it was a kind of prestige maybe. I didn't see it like that, we are good friends. In the first set, I fended off a lot of break points to grab those four games, I always had a feeling that I had to work hard in my service games.
I was playing poorly on the return because, at the beginning of the match, he didn't make a lot of first serves. I was disappointed the way I played it, pushing him a set and a break up and coming back from there. I was fighting hard and broke him at 4-5, feeling that my game really came together from the middle of the second set, with my backhand starting to get better.
You never know what's going to happen next from him; we are very similar. We are disappointed when it's not going well and happy when it works well; I think we can both hit shots you don't expect. I believe we have something similar.
Of course, Marat is, ranking-wise and result-wise, in a different league, but I hope I can catch up with him. I mean, not everything is similar because I play a one-handed backhand while he plays a two-handed one. That changes the game a lot.
I play much more slice, trying to mix up my game more. He's playing more flat from both sides, so I try to use the slice and spins against him. If we play well or bad, it's pretty similar. I think he is better than me in breaking racquets as I don't go full blast; I want to keep my racquets.
I'm better at screaming than smashing the racquets. The more matches I get, the more comfortable I feel on clay. Obviously, now it's the first time I've beaten somebody like in the top-10. That gives me a lot of confidence.
I'm really looking forward now for the next few matches; I played well in Monte-Carlo and playing well here again. As I said now, the more encounters I get under my belt, the better I will feel at the French Open. I don't really like the balls we are playing with here this week but I heard that they're much faster than at the French Open.
I think that's gonna help my game even more; I'm looking forward to the next few tournaments because clay is a good challenge for me; so far, I'm playing well."