Roger Federer was the player with the most wins in the early stages of the 2003 season, lifting trophies in Marseille and Dubai and playing on a high level in Munich and Rome. After an early exit at Roland Garros, Roger found his A-game on grass, winning the title in Halle and conquering Wimbledon in an impressive style for his first Major title at 21.
With no time for rest or celebration, Federer went back home and reached the final in Gstaad, losing in five sets to Jiri Novak and taking a couple of weeks off before Montreal, where he had a chance to become world no. 1. Federer lost to Andy Roddick in the semis in the decisive match, staying away from the ATP throne and barely escaping an early exit in Cincinnati a week later.
A qualifier Scott Draper, ranked 114th, had seven match points against the Swiss before Roger prevailed 4-6, 6-3, 7-6(10) after two hours and two minutes. Federer fended off the most significant number of match points up to that point in a career, repeating that only in Melbourne last January versus Tennys Sandgren.
Roger repelled nine out of ten break chances. Still, he couldn't find the rhythm on the return, scoring one break in the second set and surviving those scary moments in the decider's closing stages to avoid an unexpected loss and move into the second round.
Roger Federer had to save seven match points against a qualifier in Cincinnati 2003.
"It should have been over when he opened a 6-2 lead in the tie break, but I survived. I don't think I ever saved seven match points before, although I don't remember those matches; they are no that often.
It was a tough encounter for me. He played well to earn his opportunities, stayed aggressive, and secured many free points with his serve. I was getting used to the conditions; it's different than Montreal, and I couldn't make an easy transition.
I would have told you the same if I had lost. I played well on those match points, and I'm happy to go through. I think I deserved to win; I was pretty relaxed. You have to accept the situation and try hard in every point. When I came back to 7-7, I wasn't comfortable anymore, as I wanted to win.
You can't practice for situations like today; you have to try your best until the end. Sometimes you can turn the scoreboard around, and sometimes you can't. Last week in Montreal, I had to battle hard in the first round against Gaudio, chasing the no.
1 place and playing with extra confidence. Today, I wanted to hang in there. The ball is bouncing much higher here in Cincinnati than in Montreal. The balls are different, and I don't understand that, coming from the same brand.
You have to adjust to them every week, and it's not easy when you play against a qualifier who had already played a couple of matches. He played on a high level, putting me under pressure. I just tried to stay focused on my service games and not get behind like in the opener," Roger Federer said.