Roger Federer made a name for himself already in junior days, finishing the 1998 season as year-end no. 1 player and conquering Wimbledon that year. Still as a teenager, Federer advanced into the quarter-final at Roland Garros and Wimbledon in 2001, stunning the seven-time champion Pete Sampras in London before falling in four tight sets against Tim Henman.
Federer had a solid run in the first half of 2002 as well, playing in the first Masters 1000 final in Miami and moving one step further in May in Hamburg, lifting the first trophy at that level and entering the top-10 on the next day.
After early exits at Roland Garros and Wimbledon and points lost from the previous year, Roger couldn't play at his best in the rest of the season, struggling on and off the court and hoping for a better run in 2003.
He made a great start of the mentioned season, scoring the most victories ahead of Indian Wells and playing on a high level on clay too after conquering Munich and reaching the third round in Rome. Asked about the national athlete of the year award, Federer admitted it isn't easy to earn it in Switzerland but also that it isn't his prime target.
Also, he mentioned Martina Hingis who had decided to retire from tennis, leaving Roger as the ultimate star of the Swiss tennis in those years. "I don't know; every year you have some guys who achieve something big, like Simon Ammann last year.
Then you have the skiers who win races or World Cups. Maybe I'm the most popular Swiss athlete but result-wise, I need to step it up in the big tournaments or the Davis Cup to be the sports athlete of the year. That's the reason I haven't achieved that yet in Switzerland.
I've been second last year, third two years ago. Still, that's not the most important thing in life. I'm maybe getting more attention since the retirement of Martina Hingis but I was popular even she was still active.
Also, my results helped me becoming more popular. My goals are higher than that. I mean, I hope I will get sports athlete of the year eventually if we have some guys who don't perform."