Roger Federer is the most successful male tennis player at Grand Slams, with 20 titles to his name. He is, arguably, the very best the sport has ever seen.

However, early on in his career, Federer was known as the man who had stunned Pete Sampras at Wimbledon in 2001. Despite being a former junior World No 1, the only sign that the Swiss would go on to dominate tennis courts for the remainder of the decade was that fourth-round tie against Sampras that Federer had won after epic five sets.

Watch: 19-year-old Roger Federer beat seven-time champion Pete Sampras at Wimbledon

In the next seven Majors that followed, Federer had failed to go past the quarter-finals. He made two straight first-round exits at French Open and one at Wimbledon in 2002.

2003 — start of a new era in Majors

Federer, who won the event at Halle in Germany before Wimbledon in 2003, was seeded fourth in London, though he wasn’t seen as a favourite for the event. In fact, fifth-seeded Andy Roddick was seen as someone who could cause a splash at SW19.

Federer’s chances were boosted when defending champion and top seed Lleyton Hewitt made a first-round exit at the hands of Ivo Karlovic. Federer had no such problem as he defeated South Korea’s Lee Hyung-Taik in straight sets. He built on that win with another straight-set win over Austria’s Stefan Koubek.

It was in the third round that Federer dropped his first set in the tournament, against American Mardy Fish, but won the game 6-3, 6-1, 4-6, 6-1.

Having failed to clear the fourth round since that win over Sampras two years ago, Federer’s campaign looked to be under threat as he suffered a back injury. Just when it looked like Federer would have to pull out, he showed great powers of recovery to beat Spain’s Feliciano Lopez 7-6(5), 6-4, 6-4.

“He was struggling with a back problem. It looked like there was a chance he wasn’t going to finish. He had that look in his eye. And then somehow he found the wherewithal to dig a little deeper. And suddenly the guy goes on and wins the thing and he’s like a different player,” John McEnroe told The Daily Telegraph in 2013.

A 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 win over Sjeng Schalken in the quarter-finals helped Federer set up a semi-final against Roddick.

In the semi-final, Federer’s game finally reached the high that he had achieved during the match against Sampras. He not only dealt with Roddick’s much-talked about serve, but eased past the American 7-6(8), 6-3, 6-3 while firing in 17 aces in the match.


Another big server awaited in the final in the shape of Australia’s Mark Philippoussis, but Federer had a ready blueprint to upstage his opponent who had reached the final having beaten Andre Aggasi on the way.

The Swiss player delivered another stellar performance in the final with a 7-6(5), 6-2, 7-6(3) win to lift his first Grand Slam title. The performance, one of style and finesse, was to become a regular feature at Wimbledon, a Major that he went onto dominate in years to come.

From 12 finals till 2019, Federer has won Wimbledon a record eight times.

Read: Grass greats: Federer’s records to Borg, Sampras’ Wimbledon runs, top ATP players on the green lawns


Beating two big servers en route his first Grand Slam title, Federer showed that there was still a place for finesse and touch-play in tennis, even when it was becoming all about power.

While Federer’s play was a treat to the eye, his speech after lifting the glittering golden trophy was equally charming.

“It’s an absolute dream come true for me,” Federer said after the final. “I was always joking as a kid that I’m going to win this trophy and now I have it,” he added raising the trophy in his hand.


As the interview progressed, he couldn’t keep a check on his emotions. His voice cracked, tears filled his eyes as he lifted the trophy once again with both hands.

“It’s something that I never thought would happen that I would win a Grand Slam,” he said.

Little did he know then that it would become a habit. After that win in 2003, he won the Wimbledon for four straight years before his run was ended by a sprightly Rafael Nadal exactly five years later. Incidentally, it would happen on the very same day after an epic final on July 6 in 2008.


Also read: What next for Roger Federer?