NEW YORK -- In the third round of the 2003 U.S. Open, No. 2 seed Roger Federer met James Blake.
Federer, fresh off his 22nd birthday, had just won his first career Grand Slam at Wimbledon. Blake, a 23-year-old American, was playing in the third round for the second consecutive year, and hoped to set a new personal best at his nation's premier tournament.
Federer won the first meeting between them, 6-3, 7-6, 6-3.
And their careers could not have gone in more opposite directions.
Federer won 16 more Grand Slams. His 17 Grand Slams are the most all time. He has held the world No. 1 position for a record 302 weeks and his longest stretch of 237 consecutive weeks is also a record in the Open Era. Federer has 77 career titles and over $77.7 million in prize money.
Blake broke his neck and suffered from shingles in 2004. He rebounded to climb to as high as No. 4 in the world rankings, but never advanced past a Grand Slam quarterfinal (he made three).
On Monday, Blake announced he will retire after his final match at this year's U.S. Open. After more than a decade of physical and emotional battles, the 33-year-old will join his wife, publicist Emily Snider and 1-year-old daughter, Riley Elizabeth, at home.
Federer, 32, is seeded seventh at this year. After his 6-3, 6-2, 7-5 first-round win over Slovenian Grega Zemlja, Federer paid tribute to his old rival. Despite his age, Federer has not hinted at retirement, and he is glad an injury did not force Blake out of the sport.
"I guess I was happy to hear it because I really have enjoyed playing against James," Federer said. "I think it's always nice when you can go out on your terms."
Blake fought back from scoliosis as a teenager and a broken neck, shingles and knee surgery as a professional. Blake has been healthy as of late and told the press Monday he feels he still could compete competitively if he wanted to.
"He could still play for years to come," Federer said. "He knows that. But I think eventually maybe he just felt like, it's good for me. I've accomplished everything I've wanted. I want to go out on my terms. It's in New York, which makes total sense for him."
After the 2003 U.S. Open match, Federer defeated Blake in their next seven meetings. The streak included two Grand Slam quarterfinals matches, at the 2006 U.S. Open and the 2008 Australian Open.
When Blake spoke Monday about his career, he recalled the 2006 Shanghai Masters being one of his most memorable tournaments. Playing among the best in the world, he reached the final.
Of course, Federer was there to dispose of Blake 6-0, 6-3, 6-4.
"I've had some good matches against him," Federer said. "Maybe the biggest matches of his career, except maybe the match he played here against Agassi."
Blake's five-set loss to Andre Agassi in the 2005 U.S. Open quarterfinals is one of the more famous all-American matches at the tournament in the past decade.
Blake's breakthrough against Federer came at the 2008 Beijing Olympics quarterfinals. Blake knocked off the Swiss 6-4, 7-6.
Even then, Blake had bad luck. He lost the third set of his semifinal match with Fernando Gonzalez 11-9. Novak Djokovic defeated Blake in the bronze-medal match to keep him off the podium.
"Cincinnati, Shanghai. I've had some big matches again him, also the Olympics, where he beat me," Federer said. "We go way back. We always used to practice a lot together, have good times on tour.
Blake recorded another victory after Federer withdrew from the quarterfinals of the 2008 Paris Masters.
In what will likely be their final two meetings, Federer won 6-2, 6-4 in Madrid in 2009 and 6-4, 6-1 in Cincinnati in 2011. He will officially finish with a 10-2 record against Blake.
Despite the stats, Federer has respect for Blake for all the times they went to battle. Federer tips his cap to Blake's forehand, his signature stroke.
"I think it's ranked one of the best shots out there because his take-back is extremely quick," Federer says. "You cannot see where he hits it. He can also hit it moving backwards or forwards. He can pull the trigger, so you're never quite safe when you go to that side."
Federer will power ahead to the second round, where he will match up with Argentine Carlos Berlocq.
Blake plays his first-round match late Wednesday afternoon versus Croatian Ivo Karlovic.
The 30-something-year-olds can only meet in a potential once-in-a-full-moon final.
Federer hopes the 2013 U.S. Open is not the last time he crosses paths with Blake.
"I'll miss him, but he's probably going to stay around tennis some," Federer said. "That's good to hear. I think it's always a pity when you leave the game entirely and you never see the guy again. With James, I hope he'll stay around."
If nothing else, at least Blake can hold his head high knowing he left an impression on the greatest player of all-time.
-- Follow Jeffrey Eisenband on Twitter @JeffEisenband.
'Trick Shot Titus' Strikes Again