In 2003, Roger Federer won his first Wimbledon crown and kicked off a stellar journey towards the ATP throne, becoming world no. 1 after lifting the second Grand Slam trophy in Melbourne at the beginning of 2004. Those were still times where the gap between the players from the top and the rest of the field was not that big, and Roger made a name for himself and proved why he would rule the world of tennis in the next four years.
After Melbourne, the Swiss won titles in Dubai, Indian Wells and Hamburg to distance himself from the chasing group, suffering the only setback at Roland Garros where a former champion Gustavo Kuerten halted him in the third round.
It was time for grass and Roger was back at his best, defending titles in Halle and Wimbledon while making a quick transition from grass to clay to conquer the home event in Gstaad. After a deserved break, Federer was back on the court in Toronto, winning the fourth Masters 1000 crown after a 7-5, 6-3 triumph over world no.
2 Andy Roddick. Thus, the Swiss star became the first player since Bjorn Borg in 1979 with three ATP titles in a row on three different surfaces (the Swede followed a similar path, taking Wimbledon, Bastad, and Toronto)! Just two days after winning his maiden title in Canada, Federer was at the office in Cincinnati, facing Dominik Hrbaty in the first round (the top seeds didn't receive a bye in the first round back then).
The Slovak stunned the world's best player 1-6, 7-6, 6-4 in an hour and 50 minutes, breaking Roger's streak of 23 consecutive wins! That was the career-best run for Federer at that moment, and the defeat came as a big surprise considering his form and the way he won the opening set.
Thanks to that first part of the match, Roger won 11 points more than the Slovak, not the crucial ones, especially in set number two. He had ten break chances but managed to convert only two in the first set, with Hrbaty doing a great job to fend off all the others, staying in touch until that crucial break in the ninth game of the decider pushed him through.
Federer got broken once, although that lone break was enough for Dominik to notch a notable triumph.
The first set was a one-sided affair, with Roger breaking twice to take it 6-1 in swift 25 minutes. Hrbaty raised the level in the second set but Federer still had the opportunities to wrap up the encounter in straight sets, earning chances in the third and fifth games, only to squander them all and fail to deliver the final punch.
Dominik won the tie break 9-7 when Roger hit the backhand drive volley long, and the match was on from that moment, with the momentum on the side of the Slovak who knew he would stand a chance in the decider. They stayed neck and neck in the final set until that ninth game when Roger lost serve, allowing Hrbaty to seal the deal in the next game and cross the finish line.
After that strong opening set, Roger started to miss some easy shots and didn't play like a man who was chasing the 24th consecutive triumph on the Tour. Interestingly, Federer could have become the first player since Pete Sampras in 1999 with 24 straight wins but had to wait for some other opportunity and another big streak.
This was the earliest exit for the Swiss since Roland Garros 2003, when Luis Horna halted him in the opening round, competing in Cincinnati for the fourth time and still standing on just one victory. It would all change from 2005 when Roger set his domination, winning the record-breaking seven titles in Ohio, the last one in 2015.