A blond-haired and baby-faced big guy the champion who opened the third millennium at the Foro Italico. Magnus Norman, the man everyone start to note only when he arrives to the final, is a cold-hearted Swede grew at the Kungliga club in Stockholm, the same as Bjorn Borg. And it's the opposite pole respect to the curly-haired joyful Brazilian Guga Kuerten, with all his smiles, hearts drawn on the clay and razor-thin backhands.
In 3 hours and 11 minutes Norman won 63 64 46 64, despite the Brazilian registered more winners and, at the same time, more errors showing he dictated the game. Despite the four breaks exchanged in the opening games of the third set, Norman dominated and the only pathos came when he had to clinch the game at 5-3 in the fourth, and managed to do so after wasting five match points thanks to a wayward backhand by the Brazilian.
Kuerten came back into the final next year, but "Mosquito" Ferrero stung more. Both marked by tragedies in family (Kuerten lost his father who died while umpiring a tennis match, Ferrero lost his mother), they gave live to an intriguing final clinched 6-2 in the fifth by the Spaniard who had was 1-5 down after 20 minutes. Kuerten sealed the first set 6-3 but was more and more paying the heat and Ferrero's energies were increasing. He was doing all the right moves, and a five-setter has often two-three subplots inside. Kuerten lost centimetres, space and self-confidence while the Spaniard nullified his best weapon, the backhand. The Brazilian, in the 2001 Roland Garros semifinal succeeded in overpowering Ferrero despite being 1 set to 2 down and 1-3 in the fourth. This time Mosquito revealed to be a better marathon-runner; it was hard to think that just three years before, in Rome, he was playing, and winning, the first final of his career, in a Futures event.
In 2002 Andre Agassi closed a circle opened 13 years before, with that match point wasted against Alberto Mancini. The Kid triumphed to Tommy Haas, the 24 years old brought up at the Bollettieri Academy to become the "new Agassi". But despite being eight years younger, the German surrendered and was completely overpowered by the experience, class and personality of his opponent. And probably was affected by showing too much respect, the keyword at the Californian tennis capitol. The 7 thousands spectators on the stands wanted to see a match, but Agassi didn't agree. Haas had to fight already to hold to 1-1 but, when he was passed by a wonderful lob after 24 minutes his fate was determined. He wasted three break point to 3-3, lost the first set 6-3 closing it auto-punishing himself with a double. In the second he broke back to 3-4 but his image of fear was reinforced by the break he completed soon after; the bagel in the third became a natural consequence.
2003 was the year that revolutionised hierarchies and theories. Mantilla, out since a pair of years, became really Felix. The Spaniard inspired by Emil Zatopek worked hard to overpower Roger Federer, wasting 14 break points out of 17. The narcissistic Swiss surrender in three sets, a solution paid 7 to 1 by bookmakers . Under 36 degrees, the Spaniard, long-bearded for a bet, profited from a bad rebound, a double fault and a mistake to clinch the first set 7-5. The snooty Fed (not yet) Ex dashed 2-0 in the second but entrapped himself in a dark passage 8 games long. Down 57 26 02, he had again some chance in the third, at 5-4 and 5-5, some way managed to force the set to the tiebreak and was probably only half-aware of the set point at 8-7. He mis-hit a backhand, a smash and the forehand making Mantilla cry in happiness.
Another Spanish triumph in 2004. Carlos Moya, starting a love affair with the Italian Flavia Pennetta, needed just an hour and 45 minutes to bend the Argentinian "viveur" with a shockingly beautiful backhand David Nalbandian. Moya, an anomalous Spaniard with a predisposition for net game, who tried 25 volleys in the final completing the 64% of points, won 6-3 6-3 6-1. The highlight of the entire match was a demi-volleyed passing from under the legs at 4-0 15all in the third by Moya.