In his second full season on the ATP Tour, Roger Federer clinched 49 wins and the first ATP crown in Milan in 2001, finishing the year just outside the Top 10. 21-year-old was ready to rumble even stronger in 2002, reaching his first Masters 1000 final in Miami and another one in Hamburg.
His results in Monte Carlo and Rome were not that good but he pulled everything together in Germany (Hamburg was always his favorite clay Masters), beating Gustavo Kuerten and Marat Safin to lift his first Masters 1000 crown.
Also, with these 500 points, Roger found himself in the Top 10 for the first time next morning, and he will be there at the end of the season as well, despite some seesaw results in the following months. In the title match, Roger took down world number 5 Marat Safin by 6-1 6-3 6-4 in 2 hours and 2 minutes, scoring 8 breaks and keeping the points on his racquet all the time.
This was their first meeting and Roger really outplayed his rival in the first hour of the match, winning 11 out of the first 13 games to seize the full control over the scoreboard. Marat did manage to raise his level a little bit in the final set but it wasn't enough to make a turnaround or at least to win a set, making too many errors in the end.
After a surprising loss to Thomas Johansson in the final of the Australian Open, Safin lost his ground a little bit in the first half of 2002 but he played some good matches on clay, reaching the semi-final at Roland Garros as well, but he was powerless most of the time against young Swiss who delivered everything he already had in his packed arsenal.
Roger served at only 53% but his first serve worked well, and he saved 4 out of 7 break points to limit the damage in his games. He had 24 errors from his backhand but also 12 winners, and that was enough to keep him in front almost all the time, as Marat never found a good rhythm from his left wing.
Also, we saw some well-constructed defensive backhands from Federer, who sliced them nicely to find both depth and accuracy that left Marat with nothing to work on. Federer made a lot of damage with his forehand, efficiently opening the court and forcing errors from his opponent.
Roger's movement was another advantage that he leaned upon, covering the court supremely and making his rival chase lines and risky shots, that didn't end well for the Russian, as the result clearly suggests. As a natural attacker, Federer embraced every opportunity to rush to the net and keep the points on his racquet, and he tamed his shots better, feeling confident after blasting a huge amount of winners from all over the court.
Marat never found the range of his shots and he was toppled in the mid-range rallies, plagued by almost 60 mistakes he made. Russian restored his first serve percentage after the opening set but that didn't bring him much, as he struggled in 12 out of 13 games on his serve! Roger won 53% of the return points and he created no less than 17 break points, converting 8 for an upper hand in the biggest part of the match, especially in the first 2 sets.
Marat had 25 service winners, 7 more than Roger, but he never felt comfortable in his games, with the pressure on him all the time. Federer lost 40% of the points in his games but mostly in the closing stages of set 2 and in the third, when he started to struggle a little bit, but his performance was more than sufficient to bring the match home in straights and lift his maiden Masters crown.
As we already said, Safin had more service winners but Roger was the ruler on the court when it comes to direct points from the field, hitting monstrous 32 winners compared to just 16 from his rival. Federer landed 12 backhand winners, backed by 11 from his forehand and 6 that came at the net with volleys, and the only shot that worked well for Marat was his backhand, that delivered him 9 direct points.
Safin committed 32 unforced errors, 19 from his backhand wing, and Roger stayed on 22, locking his backhand on 14 mistakes. Marat also added 27 forced errors (15 from the backhand side), a nice illustration of Roger's supremacy from the baseline, drawing 22 mistakes from Roger, and the winner was never in doubt when we check the total number of winners and errors.
Thanks to those service winners, Safin was 58-46 in front in terms of the shortest points that ended with a maximum number of 4 shots, and he was up there with Roger in the longest points, winning 14 against 16 for the Swiss.
Nonetheless, Federer destroyed his opponent in the mid-range rallies, from 5 to 8 strokes, conquering 49 out of 64 to leave Marat in the dust. It is not often you see such a big difference in any statistical element, especially not in the Masters 1000 final, but Marat was just feeble and fragile once the rally matured a little bit, and that brings us to that huge amount of errors he made.
Roger held at love in the first game of the match, which is always important, and he reached 2 deuces on the return in the next game, before Safin put his name on the scoreboard with 3 service winners. From 30-0 down in the third game, Federer grabbed 4 points in a row to move in front once again, hitting 2 service winners and another one from his forehand.
Marat was still searching for his shots and he got broken in game 4 after 4 errors, finding himself 4-1 down when Roger held in game 5. Nothing worked well for the Russian and he lost serve again in game 6 after wasting 2 game points.
He won 2 16-stroke rallies but his errors kept Roger in the game until he had to hand another service game. Federer didn't need the second invitation to bring the opener home, cracking 4 winners in game 7 to move 6-1 in front after some 25 minutes.
Marat served at only 48% and he needed much more than that to be competitive, as his groundstrokes were just not there. Roger was 8-4 in front in terms of service winners and 5-3 in winners from the field, and he stayed on only 9 errors while Marat counted to 17.
Russian made 10 unforced errors, 6 more than the Swiss, and it was 7-5 in forced errors for Safin, who was beaten in every segment, leaving with a lot of work to do from set number 2. Federer continued where he left in the first set, breaking at the start of the second to gain the full control over the scoreboard.
Marat couldn't control his anger anymore after giving Roger a break point, breaking his racquet, and Federer converted it with a beautiful backhand lob that stayed out of Safin's reach. Another commanding hold pushed Roger 2-0 up, he fired 3 winners and he was the dominant figure on the court so far.
The third game saw more troubles for Marat on serve, but he held after 3 deuces and 2 break points he offered to Roger. Federer missed a chance to steal this game as well, sending a forehand long, and Safin closed the game with 2 service winners to end his downfall.
Nonetheless, Swiss player was still sailing through his service games, creating a 3-1 gap and breaking again in game 5 to gather all the momentum. This time, Moscow native squandered 3 game points and he paid the prize in the end when Roger hit an amazing running forehand to pretty much seal the second set.
Another 4 winners gave Roger a 5-1 lead in the 6th game, closing it with a great 19-stroke rally that also went to his side, like almost everything so far in the match. Safin struggled once again on his serve in game 7, and he had to save 2 set points to avoid the repeat of the first set scoreline.
From 40-15 down, he delivered 4 winners to reduce the deficit to 5-2 and prolong the set at least for one more game. Roger served for the set in the following game and it seemed it will be safely in the bag when he earned a set point with 3 winners, but this time it was Safin who played with more focus and stamina, staying in the game and creating his first break point with a touchy backhand lob winner.
He converted it thanks to a good return in the next point, and this already looked better than what might have happened just a few minutes ago when he avoided being broken again. Still, he couldn't stay in touch for too long, wasting 4 game points in game 9 to drop serve again, as Federer closed the set by 6-3, moving just a set away from the triumph.
Roger was waving in and he grabbed that break after another error from Safin, who was now on a verge of defeat. In set number 2 Roger was the one who struggled to find the first serve (44%), but we couldn't notice that in his games, as he played against just 1 break point.
On the other hand, Marat served at 70%, which was a significant improvement from the first set, but he didn't have the breathing space, pushed to the distance in every service game and dropping serve 3 times. Safin was now in front when we speak about service winners, by 11-4, but Roger was simply amazing once the rally was on, firing 19 winners and leaving Marat on 7, a huge difference created in just 9 games.
Federer made a little bit more errors in this set but he felt comfortable to do so with that number of winners by his name. Safin had 10 unforced errors, compared to 9 from Roger, and it was 8-7 in forced errors, that also couldn't make the difference for either of the players.
Marat was in a very tough position, with a mountain to climb in front of himself, but he at least raised his level in the closing stages of the second set, starting to return more efficiently and create chances. Also, Federer started to miss more, unable to keep the level that gave him a 6-1 5-1 advantage, and the Swiss faced 3 break points at the start of the third set.
He managed to fend them off and to bring the game home, and he broke in the following game to create a 2-0 gap. This was the 9th service game for Safin since the start of the match and he was still unable to held without troubles.
He saved the first 2 break points but Roger converted the third to put one hand on the trophy already, forcing the 13th backhand error from his rival. Nonetheless, Federer lost his focus in the 4th game, dropping serve at love with 4 errors to keep Marat in contention.
After 2 deuces in game 4, Safin held to level the score at 2-2, which was the first positive result he has had since the start of the match. The light at the end of the tunnel became even brighter for the Russian after he scored another break in game 5 to take the first lead of the match.
His forehand worked better now and he was able to dictate the pace for the first time in the match, alongside more errors that came from Roger's racquet. Instead of building a 4-2 lead, Safin got broken in game 6 after being unable to convert 3 game points, missing an easy backhand that brought Roger back on the scoreboard.
Federer regained the advantage with an ace in game 7 but Safin responded with his first easy hold of the match for a 4-4, setting an interesting enclosure of the set. Federer held at 15 in game 9 to finish his part of the job, and Marat served to stay in the match after that with no room for errors.
He couldn't avoid them, though, spraying 4 shots long to hand the break and the triumph to his opponent, who celebrated his biggest title of the career so far with tears in his eyes. In set number 3 Marat hit 10 service winners and Roger stayed on 6, while the Swiss again had the upper hand in the winners from the rallies, this time only by 8-6.
Russian made 5 errors more (12-9 in unforced, 12-10 in forced) and this was by far the tightest set of the match, although Marat woke up too late to make a turnaround.
Point by point result and the number of shots in the rallies: