Reaching back-to-back Major quarter-finals at Roland Garros and Wimbledon in 2001, Roger Federer couldn't keep the same level on the most significant scene in the next couple of years. The Swiss fell in the early rounds and suffered a big blow at Wimbledon 2002 when a qualifier Mario Ancic defeated him in straight sets in the first round.
Ready to bounce back, Federer won the title in Halle in June 2003 for the best preparation ahead of Wimbledon. He played on a high level at the All England Club, racing past the first three rivals and doing the same against Feliciano Lopez despite a nasty back injury during the training.
Returning to the All England Club quarter-final, Federer toppled Sjeng Schalken in three sets to book the semi-final meeting against Andy Roddick, with both seeking the first Major final. Determined to show his best tennis, Federer forged a 7-6, 6-3, 6-3 victory in an hour and 43 minutes, leaving Roddick far behind and staying on the title course in the cathedral of tennis.
Repelling two break chances at the beginning of the second set, Federer gave away only 17 points in 15 service games, mounting the pressure on the other side of the court and moving over the top with three breaks of serve on his tally.
Andy was there to fight in the opener, saving one break point and creating a set point at 6-5 in the tie break, only to spray a massive forehand error and ruin his chances for a more favorable result. With 74 winners and 35 errors, Federer was the ruler of the court, dominating in sets two and three to find himself in the first Major final at 21.
Roger Federer beat Andy Roddick to reach the first Major final at Wimbledon 2003.
"My good serving made the difference, allowing me to play risky shots in his games. I had a chance to break him in the first set, going for shots and staying focused on the return games.
My initial shot worked well, and in those moments, I feel I can return any serve and keep the pressure on my opponents. That was the crucial element in my win. I don't try to copy anyone; I think that's wrong. In the hitting zone, it is pretty much the same for all of us.
The technique is the one that makes you look good or bad on the court. My favorite players were Boris Becker, Stefan Edberg and then Pete Sampras; I loved watching them. I knew I could reach the Major final, but I had to work hard to get there, like all the other players.
People talked about that when I beat Sampras here, but it was a tough road in the next couple of years. I have been at Wimbledon for two and a half weeks, which is unusual for me, having more days off and not so tough matches.
Physically, I'm fine after losing just one set so far, and I hope to carry the momentum into the final. I felt like I can return Andy's serve; I said that in the press conference yesterday. I'm not scared of his serves as I read them well; that makes him a bit frustrated.
I had to keep the returns in and make him think about the next shot. It's not easy to control the match against Andy Roddick. You have to focus on your serve and hope not to offer him too many chances. There's always a threat out there, especially in such important encounters.
It was crucial to stay focused, as I felt the danger all the time; I had to keep the advantage on my side of the court. I hit some unbelievable shots today; it's always nice to have those in big matches. The last time I felt that was probably against Safin in Hamburg last year, also scoring straight-sets triumph.
It's a great atmosphere on the Centre Court, and it always helps when you can pull off strokes that would bring the crowd to their feet. The opening set was significant; I felt I was playing well and kept everything under control, even in the tie breaks.
Still, Andy played on a high level too, and I'm happy that he missed that forehand; maybe it would have changed the encounter. With or without the first set, I had to remain focus and stick to my game, not letting him move in front.
I guess you don't get standing ovations very often after just three sets, and it means a lot to me. I got standing ovations when I beat Pete Sampras two years ago; it's a special feeling, and you work hard to earn that," Roger Federer said.