Roger Federer had to skip the first couple of weeks on clay in 2003 but once he stepped on the red courts, it wasn't easy to stop him. The Swiss claimed the title in Munich, beating all five rivals in less than five hours and building confidence ahead of the Masters 1000 event in Rome, the one where he didn't have good results in the past.
It all changed that year, playing on a high level and advancing into the third Masters 1000 final following wins over Paul-Henri Mathieu, Mariano Zabaleta, Tommy Robredo, Filippo Volandri and Juan Carlos Ferrero who had to retire in the second set.
That helped Roger to preserve some energy but he couldn't go all the way, losing to Felix Mantilla 7-5, 6-2, 7-6 in two hours and 41 minutes after having chances in both the first and third set. Mantilla saved 14 out of 17 break chances, delivering better tennis when it mattered the most and sealing the deal in straight sets for what was his tenth and also the last ATP title, the first at the Masters 1000 level.
The Spaniard grabbed just seven points more than the Swiss, having the upper hand in the shortest and mid-range exchanges while Federer had the better numbers in the most advanced rallies, not enough to take at least a set.
Roger wasted his opportunities in the closing stages of the opening set and got broken in the worst possible moment at 5-6 to hand the set to his rival. From 2-0 up in set number two, the youngster dropped the next eight games to find himself 7-5, 6-2, 2-0 down, propelling Mantilla closer to the finish line.
Out of sudden, Federer started to play better and rattled off four straight games to open a 4-2 lead, looking good to take the set after serving for it at 5-4. Nonetheless, he squandered two set points to keep the rival in the set, with Mantilla repelling no less than seven break chances in the 11th game to set up a tie break where Federer saved two match points, missing a slice backhand on his set point and sending a forehand long at 8-9 to push the rival over the top.
Despite the fatigue, the Swiss said he would play in Hamburg next week, not pulling out that easily and wanting to chase the title defense. "I have been playing for two weeks and the body started to hurt already a couple of days ago.
I will travel to Hamburg and play; I'm the defending champion and I don't pull out because of some small reasons. I didn't feel I lost eight straight games but that it just didn't go my way, despite doing the right things on the court.
I'm walking off the court and I felt like he had to win today; all the big points went his way. It's not easy to accept that because I worked hard to make a comeback in sets two and three. In the end, I have to say he played a good match and deserved to win."