Roger Federer established himself as a top-10 player at the end of 2002, with big plans for the new season. The Swiss claimed the first Major title at Wimbledon 2003, earned notable points and got into contention for world no. 1 spot during the US Open Series. On Monday, August 4, Roger was 340 points behind Andre Agassi on the ATP list. Andre lost in the quarter-final of the Canada Masters to Rainer Schuettler, and Federer had the opportunity to pass him and conquer the ATP throne for the first time. Just a day after turning 22, Roger walked on the court against Andy Roddick on August 9 in the semi-final encounter that stood between him and dethroning Agassi. The Swiss could not make the last step, losing 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 in an hour and 56 minutes. Thus, Roger missed a massive opportunity to take the ATP throne six months before he did that in February 2004. It was their fifth meeting on the Tour and the first win for Andy.
The American was super motivated to do his best against Federer after losing to him in the Wimbledon semi-final a month earlier. The Swiss had a 4-2 advantage in the final set but failed to bring the match home, finishing his run in the semi-final. After the first-round loss at Roland Garros, Roddick parted ways with his longtime coach Tarik Benhabiles and hired Brad Gilbert. Brad would draw the best from him and carry him towards the no. 1 position in November that year. After this victory over Roger, Andy had 23 wins from 25 matches under Brad, and he would lift the US Open trophy a month later. The American served at only 48%, getting broken twice from as many chances offered to Federer. On the other hand, Roger hit ten double faults and struggled on the second serve. The Swiss faced nine break chances and fended off seven of those. He had a chance to seal the deal after that break in the final set but came short in the end. Roddick stood on 34 winners and 23 unforced errors.
Roger Federer had a chance to become world no. 1 in Montreal 2003.
At the same time, Roger finished the match with similar numbers, forging a 38-28 ratio to follow the rival’s pace and perform on a higher level at some moments. Roddick earned two break chances already in the encounter’s third game and converted the first when Roger netted a backhand for an early lead. The American moved 3-1 in front with three aces, playing well from the baseline and exploiting Roger’s backhand to keep the upper hand in the rallies. Federer recovered from a slow start and created a 30-0 advantage on return at 3-4, only to lose four straight points and fall 5-3 behind. The American closed the opener with a service winner in game ten after swift 29 minutes, keeping his second serve safe and being a more determined player from the baseline. Things went from bad to worse for Roger, facing three break chances at the beginning of the second set. He repelled them for a critical hold and a boost. They both served well until game six when Andy experienced trouble on serve after being 40-0 up.
He hit a double fault to give Roger a break chance, and the Swiss converted it when Roddick sent a volley long. Federer closed the set with a hold at love in game nine, reducing the number of errors and grabbing that only chance on the return to send the encounter into a decider. Carried by this momentum, Roger broke in the early stages of the final set to get himself in the driving seat. He read Andy’s serves better than in the opener and took charge from the baseline to close that game with a backhand winner. Federer saved two break points in game four with aces and the third with a forehand winner, refusing to surrender the serve and moving 3-1 in front. He had to dig deep again at 3-2, landing an incredible backhand crosscourt winner after a 23-stroke rally to repel another break chance.
Roger closed the game with two service winners to build a 4-2 lead, moving two games away from becoming world no. 1. Hanging in there, Roddick earned another break chance following a great return in game eight and seized it with another deep one to lock the result at 4-4. The American fired three service winners in the next game to move ahead, and both players held comfortably in the next three games to set up a tie break. After Roger’s double fault, Andy got the first mini-break in the second point. Federer missed an easy forehand in the next one but pulled one mini-break back at 1-3 to keep himself in contention, doing his best to cross the finish line first. Still, his fate was pretty much sealed when Roddick took the next point with a perfect running forehand winner. The American moved over the top when Roger landed a forehand long at 6-3 to seal the deal and advance into the final.