Recognized as one of the biggest prospects among the new generation of players born in the early 80s, Roger Federer became the one to watch in 2001. A teenager won the first ATP title and reached the quarter-final at both Roland Garros and Wimbledon, following that thrilling triumph over the seven-time champion Pete Sampras in five sets.
After that, the entire tennis world was ready to witness a new Major champion from Switzerland, although they had to wait for a couple of years before Roger pulled everything together to join the immortals on that list. Roger won the first Masters 1000 title in Hamburg in May 2002 after beating Marat Safin, earning enough points to finally crack the top-10 and standing as one of the favorites in Paris and London.
Instead of that, the youngster hit the exit door at both Majors in the first round, not playing well in the next couple of months but still securing his first Masters Cup berth in Shanghai. Returning stronger in 2003, Federer had most victories on the Tour in the first couple of months, lifting crowns in Marseille, Dubai and Munich on three different surfaces and hoping for more of the same just a week after that Bavaria triumph in Rome.
In the Rome second round, the Swiss ousted Mariano Zabaleta 7-6, 6-2 to extend the winning streak, losing serve once and converting three out of 16 chances on the return to break the rival's resistance in set number two and march through.
After the match, Federer expressed his desire to win Major titles in the years to come and become world no. 1. As we all know, Federer would win his first Major at Wimbledon two months later and become world no. 1 following his second Major crown at the beginning of 2004.
"I don't want to become a sports athlete of the year in Switzerland by playing like I've been playing the last few years just because other guys haven't been playing. It's going very well at the moment in sports in Switzerland, but I want more.
I wish and hope that I can win a Major or be the world's leading player. It is all still far away, and hopefully, I can reach it one day," Roger Federer said.