Roger Federer got off to a strong start to his 2003 clay court tour, winning the title in Munich in dominating style to take home the seventh ATP crown. With no time to celebrate, the 21-year-old headed south and entered the Masters 1000 event in Rome, where he hasn’t played well in the past.
That all changed when Roger beat Paul-Henri Mathieu, Mariano Zabaleta, Tommy Robredo, Filippo Volandri and Juan Carlos Ferrero. The Swiss dropped a set en route to his third Masters 1000 final and second in a row on clay after Hamburg 2002.
Hoping to win back-to-back titles on the slower surface, Federer faced Felix Mantilla and suffered a 7-5, 6-2, 7-6 defeat in two hours and 41 minutes. Thus, Roger lost the first match since Miami and shifted his focus to the title defense in Hamburg.
Mantilla fended off 14 of 17 break chances, remained composed when it mattered most and sealed the deal in straight sets for his 10th and final ATP title, also his first at Masters 1000 level. The Spaniard earned just seven more points than the Swiss and carved out the lead in the shortest and medium exchanges.
At the same time, Federer held the advantage in later rallies, not enough to take at least a set. Roger wasted his chances in the first set and broke at the worst moment at 5-6. He opened up a 2-0 lead in set number two, only to lose the next eight games to find himself 7-5, 6-2, 2-0 down, pushing Mantilla closer to the finish line.
Suddenly, Federer took four straight games to open a 4-2 lead in the third set, serving at 5-4 and wasting two set points as Felix fell back to 5-5. The Spaniard fended off no fewer than seven break chances in the eleventh game to set up a tiebreaker.
Federer saved two match points and missed a slice backhand on set point before firing a long forehand at 8-9 to push the opponent over the top. “It’s always terrible when you miss your chances early on.”
The Swiss superstar parted ways with Nike in 2018
Nakajima reflected on his association with the Federers in an excerpt from the book titled ‘The Roger Federer effect’, co-authored by Simon Cambers and Simon Graf.
“We realized that Europeans are so far ahead in fashion. Roger wanted it a lot more tailor-fitted. So we started creating the Roger Federer collection,” Nakajima revealed. “That’s something Mirka was very involved with. When Roger wasn’t available, Mirka was,” he added.
“A nice polo with a little RF logo; people just went crazy over that. The RF hat was our number one seller at the US Open. A hat. It became one of the most iconic pieces we have ever created,” he revealed.
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