Roger Federer had needed some time to find the right rhythm at Masters 1000 series in his early years, winning just two out of the first 13 matches he played prior to Miami 2001 where he reached the quarter-final. 12 months later he played in the first final in Miami and in May he won his maiden Masters 1000 crown in Hamburg, beating Marat Safin in the title match.
We already wrote about that match (read the analysis HERE) and now we are going to examine the way he defeated Max Mirnyi in the semi-final for his biggest success on clay up to date, toppling the Belarusian 6-4 6-4 in an hour and 24 minutes. Interestingly, Max made his professional debut in singles in Hamburg Challenger back in 1995 and although he had tried to forge his career in that category his destiny was actually connected with doubles competition, winning the US Open with Lleyton Hewitt in 2000 and cementing his way towards the very top of the game.
He had some great results in singles as well but never on clay (two ATP 250 semi-finals before Hamburg), being an aggressive serve&volley player who loved to play on fast and low bouncing surfaces that could draw the most from his best shots.
Mirnyi had almost become a Masters 1000 champion in Stuttgart 2001, beating Gustavo Kuerten, Goran Ivanisevic, Pete Sampras and Yevgeny Kafelnikov en route to the final where Tommy Haas toppled him in three quick sets to crash Max's dreams of lifting the big singles title.
Prior to Hamburg 2002, he has won just two Masters 1000 matches on clay, both in Hamburg, and he surprised everyone at that event in the year we mentioned, beating Pete Sampras, Carlos Moya and Mariano Zabaleta (he got broken six times in four matches) to set up the semi-final clash with Roger Federer, their third meeting overall.
Back in 1999, Roger had beaten Mirnyi in the final of Brest Challenger, in what has been his last tournament at that level, and he also emerged as a winner in Vienna 2000 to enter this Hamburg clash with a 2-0 lead over the Belarusian.
When we see a 6-4 6-4 score we are probably thinking the match didn't bring anything special but that conclusion would have been very wrong, as they hit almost 100 winners combined in what looked like a real indoor match! In addition, 81% of the points have ended in the shortest range up to four strokes as they both tried to keep the ball on their racquet and finish the point as soon as possible.
They didn't make too many errors either and it was really a fine encounter to watch. Roger was more efficient behind both the first and second serve and he saved two out of three break points to keep the pressure on Max, who got broken three times from nine break chances he offered to the young Swiss.
Federer has won 43% of the return points and he had more winners and fewer unforced errors, which eventually gave him the triumph. His return worked great and although Mirnyi has managed to hit a lot of service winners Roger has found the way to steal his serve three times and march into the final.
The Belarusian would stick to his serve&volley game in the entire match but he made more errors from his volley than winners, unable to control the shots at the net against the powerful groundstrokes from the other side of the net.
Roger has probably never had so many winners from his backhand wing on clay in his early years and this was really a superb performance that he repeated a day later against Marat Safin as well en route to his maiden Masters 1000 title.
Mirnyi was 25-23 in front in terms of service winners (34% of all the points were unreturned serves) and Roger had a 28-20 advantage in the winners from the field, thanks to 11 direct points from his forehand and a mighty impressive 14 from the weaker backhand wind that worked like a charm that day.
In the second set, Federer started to make more unforced errors, usually in the shortest points, but they were close to each other in that segment, with 12 mistakes for the Swiss and 10 for the Belarusian. That brings us to forced errors and this is the area where Roger created a handful gap, staying on six while Max counted to 13, the most from his volley and backhand.
Surprisingly, Mirnyi was 15-11 in front in the points that hit the fifth shot mark but Roger earned his win in the shortest exchanges up to four strokes, beating Max 65-49 there. As we already saw, Mirnyi had more service winners but Roger took charge with his first groundstroke or with super fine returns that forced Max to play awkward volleys and lose ground if he fails to finish the points with his serve.
Overall, Federer had 51 winners and 19 errors, which is impressive, and Max couldn't match those numbers despite having 45 winners and 25 errors, which is far from bad by any means, just showing how good this match was.
Point by point result and the number of shots in the rallies: