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 Munich title, beating all five rivals in under five hours and building confidence ahead of the Masters 1000 event in Rome, 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 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 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 his tenth and 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 opening set's closing stages and got broken in the worst moment at 5-6 to hand it 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 a 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.
Roger Federer played for two consecutive weeks ahead of Hamburg Masters 2003.
Nonetheless, he squandered two set points to keep the rival alive, with Mantilla repelling no less than seven break chances in the 11th game to set up a tie break.
There, Federer saved two match points and missed a slice backhand on his set point before 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 for some small reasons. I didn't feel I lost eight straight games, but 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," Roger Federer said.