Roger Federer made a strong start of the 2003 clay-court swing. The Swiss won the title in Munich in dominant style to take home the seventh ATP crown and gather momentum ahead of the stronger event in the following week. With no time for celebration, the 21-year-old took a trip to the south and entered the draw of the Masters 1000 event in Rome, hoping for the first significant results at Foro Italico.
Roger changed his fortune in Rome that May, beating Paul-Henri Mathieu, Mariano Zabaleta, Tommy Robredo, Filippo Volandri and Juan Carlos Ferrero. The young Swiss dropped one set en route to his third Masters 1000 final and the second on clay after Hamburg 2002, dominating over injured Ferrero in the semis.
Before 2003, Mantilla played in one semi-final in Rome and improved that following triumphs over David Nalbandian, Mardy Fish, Albert Costa, Ivan Ljubicic and Yevgeny Kafelnikov for his most significant ATP final since Hamburg 1997.
Roger Federer wasted set points against Felix Mantilla in Rome 2003 final.
The Spaniard claimed the tenth and last ATP crown following a 7-5, 6-2, 7-6 win over Federer in grueling two hours and 41 minutes. The more experienced player fended off 14 out of 17 break chances and stayed composed when it mattered the most to seal the deal in straight sets and lift the first and only Masters 1000 trophy.
The Spaniard won just seven points more than the Swiss and forged the advantage in the shortest and mid-range exchanges, while Federer had the upper hand in the most advanced rallies, which wasn't enough to take at least a set.
Roger wasted his opportunities in the opening set and got broken in the worst moment at 5-6. He then opened a 2-0 advantage in set number two, only to drop the next eight games and find himself 7-5, 6-2, 2-0 down, propelling Mantilla closer to the finish line!
Out of a sudden, Federer grabbed four straight games to open a 4-2 advantage in the third, serving for the set at 5-4 and squandering two sets points to bring Felix back to 5-5. The Spaniard fended off no less than seven break chances in the 11th game to set up a tie break.
Federer saved two match points and missed a slice backhand on the third set point before sending a forehand long at 8-9 to push the rival over the top.