How did Roger Federer improve his score against top-10 rivals in 2003?

Roger Federer was among the world’s best players in 2003, winning his first Major crown at Wimbledon and getting a chance to become world no. 1 that summer. The Swiss could not make that extra push and grab the ATP throne in Montreal, Cincinnati and the US Open, struggling with injuries a bit in the upcoming events and losing pace to Andy Roddick. Heading to the Masters Cup with a mediocre 4-5 score against the top-10 rivals that year, Federer was the player to beat in the season’s last event. Not playing at his best in Basel and Paris due to a back injury, Roger had to fight against the players he never defeated before in Houston, facing Andre Agassi and David Nalbandian in the opening encounters. Federer had to work hard to topple the American veteran, fending off two match points in the deciding set tie break to prevail 6-7, 6-3, 7-6 and make a winning start.

In the second encounter, the Swiss notched the first victory over David Nalbandian, beating the Argentine 6-3, 6-0 and gathering confidence ahead of the following challenges. In the last round-robin clash, Roger ousted world no. 2 Juan Carlos Ferrero 6-3, 6-1 for a perfect score in his group and the semi-final clash against world no. 1 Andy Roddick. The Swiss bested the American 7-6, 6-2 to advance into the final and take an extra step after the semi-final loss at the same event in Shanghai a year ago. Roger never faced a break point and tamed his strokes nicely to hit 30 winners and stay around ten unforced errors. Roddick could not follow that pace, trailing in the shortest and more advanced exchanges and losing ground after the opening set tie break to propel Roger into the title clash. It was Roger’s fourth top-10 triumph of the week, matching everything he had achieved before Houston and hoping for more in the final. 

Roger Federer defeated Andy Roddick to reach the Masters Cup final in 2003.

“This has been my best match of the week so far. I played solid tennis from start to finish. In the previous three encounters, I had to deal with great returners. Today, a great server was on the other side of the net, and it was a completely different experience. Tomorrow should be the biggest test in the final; I’m looking forward to it. I have a chance to improve my ranking and become world no. 2; that’s an extra motivation. Competing at the Masters Cup is a great thing alone. I took an extra step in comparison to Shanghai last year, and I have a chance to win the tournament. Both Andre and I will give our best. We played a few days ago, and now we have to do it again; I have never experienced that before at the same tournament. It’s the last match of the season, and I will give everything to win. My record against the top-10 players wasn’t that good before the Masters Cup; I have polished that up, and it’s a nice feeling,” Roger Federer said.