Heading to Indian Wells and Miami as the leader of the pack in terms of the number of victories on the Tour in 2003, Roger Federer was hoping to extend his successful run, winning two of the last three tournaments played.
The Swiss lifted trophies in Marseille and Dubai but that wouldn't be the case in the first Masters 1000 tournaments of the season, losing tight encounters to Gustavo Kuerten and Albert Costa to miss a chance of fighting for the trophies.
Roger returned to Europe and scored two Davis Cup victories over France, skipping Monte Carlo and starting his clay journey with a dominant run in Munich, winning all five matches in under five hours for the seventh ATP title on his tally.
The Swiss had no time to celebrate, entering the next weeks' Rome event and beating paul-Henri Mathieu in the opening clash. In the second, he toppled Mariano Zabaleta 7-6, 6-2 in an hour and 48 minutes, fending off seven out of eight break chances and surviving a tough opener to seal the deal in straight sets and save energy for the upcoming clashes.
After the match, Federer said it was a great test against another fine clay-courter, having to work hard in the opener and overpowering the rival in the second to set the clash against Tommy Robredo. "I'm not thinking about winning the tournament yet.
We are still in the early rounds and the opponents are tough. I have to stay focused and progress match by match; tomorrow, there's another stern test against Tommy Robredo. I never played him on clay and it will not be easy; he is playing well.
The clay-court specialists make you play a lot of balls. It was a similar thing against Mathieu in the first round, as he stands far behind the baseline. You have to get used to it because it changes the way you want to serve, forcing you to think in advance how you are going to create the point without too many service winners.
It was a great test against Zabaleta as I had to work very hard in the first set, hoping to seal the deal in straights and preserve some energy."