With slim chances for the year-end no. 1 spot and not great results in the last two tournaments, Roger Federer headed to the ATP Masters Cup in Houston at the end of 2003. In the first two rounds of the group stage, Federer had to battle against the rivals he had never defeated before, hoping to finish the season on a high note. Struggling with back problems, Roger lost early in Basel and Paris, traveling to the USA for his second ATP Masters Cup event and facing the local favorite Andre Agassi in the first match. The Swiss had to work hard to oust the veteran 6-7, 6-3, 7-6, starting all over after the opener and settling into a nice rhythm to find himself 5-3 up in the decider. Andre bounced back with a late break to extend the clash and reach the tie break, creating two match points.
Remaining calm, Roger repelled them both and sealed the breaker 9-7 to notch the first triumph over the American. Playing against another rival with whom he had a negative score, Federer played on a high level to topple David Nalbandian 6-3, 6-0 and remain perfect in his group. The Swiss had the upper hand from start to finish, controlling the pace on both serve and return to oust the Argentine for the first time in six encounters on the Tour and remain perfect in Houston.
Roger Federer scored the first victory over David Nalbandian in Houston 2003.
“I have been hoping to beat him at some point; I did that today, and I’m happy. He didn’t play as well as in the previous matches against me, but I also changed the approach and fixed a few things. I’m in a good position to win the group, feeling great after two encounters, like in Shanghai last year. I’m ready for my third match. I didn’t make too many errors today; still, my serve wasn’t that good. It makes the result even more surprising without my initial shot. Davis is one of the best returners out there, but he couldn’t find his rhythm today; I took advantage of that. I like the surface; you can hit flat shots, slices, kick, rush to the net.
I didn’t feel comfortable against Nalbandian from the baseline in the past; that’s why I played serve & volley. Today, I decided to stay back and attack after two or three strokes. That worked fine for me, with his returns landing short most of the time. I was patient and aggressive at the same time, avoiding those long rallies where he is solid. He felt good before the previous encounters against me. After the US Open, many people started talking about this match, and I knew I’m not far from his pace. It feels good to beat him for the first time, to get that off my back,” Roger Federer said.