Roger Federer entered the 2002 season from the perfect position to attack the place in the top-10 and managed to achieve that despite a poor run at the Grand Slam events where he failed to reach the quarters. The young Swiss scored almost 60 wins and won three ATP titles, including his first Masters 1000 crown in Hamburg in May, enough to finish the year in the top-10 and secure the place at his very first Masters Cup in Shanghai.
The other talented youngsters born in the 80s, Marat Safin, Juan Carlos Ferrero and Lleyton Hewitt were also there and three of those would reach the semi-final, including Roger who scored all three wins in his group to advance into the last four on a high note and with eyes on the trophy.
In his very first Masters Cup match, Roger took down Juan Carlos Ferrero 6-3, 6-4 in 72 minutes, saving both break points he faced and converting one chance in each set to wrap up the triumph in straight sets. Jiri Novak took a set away from him but the Swiss dominated in the two sets he won, claiming a 6-0, 4-6, 6-2 victory to maintain a perfect score before completing the round-robin stage with a 6-3, 7-5 win over Thomas Johansson in just 74 minutes to top the Red Group ahead of Ferrero who joined Roger in the semis.
The defending champion and world no. 1 Lleyton Hewitt stood between Federer and the place in the Masters Cup final and it turned out to be one of the most thrilling best-of-three sets matches of the season, with Lleyton prevailing 7-5, 5-7, 7-5 after three hours!
Both players had been the dominant force of their generation ever since they took the first steps on the profession Tour, facing each other for already the eighth time on the ATP level after the first in Lyon three years earlier.
Lleyton had the upper hand in their first encounters and improved his lead over Roger to 6-2 after fending off 16 out of 21 break chances and stealing the Swiss' serve six times from 13 opportunities that propelled him into the final.
It was a grueling battle with a great mixture of short points and extended rallies that kept the crowd on the edge of their seats all the time, with both players giving their best to overpower the rival and cross the finish line first.
Roger had more winners but also made almost 50 unforced errors, unable to convert more break chances and stay on the winning way. Lleyton created a small gap in the quickest rallies, a notable fact for him against the better server, while nothing could have separated them in the mid-range and longer exchanges, with more than 60 points that passed the six-shot mark.
Roger made the best possible start of the match, breaking Lleyton at love in game two and painting a forehand down the line winner in the game that followed to open up a 3-0 advantage. Hewitt got his name on the scoreboard with a hold at love before sending a forehand long to fall 4-1 down, with Federer controlling the scoreboard so far.
Serving for the set at 5-3, Roger netted a forehand on the set point and hit a double fault in the worst possible moment to bring Lleyton back into contention as the Aussie pulled the break back for a 4-5. Hewitt saved another set point on his serve in game ten with a volley winner and three more (the last one with a great forehand winner) to bring the game home and gain huge momentum.
Roger lost the ground completely in those moments, spraying a forehand error to lose serve for the second time in a row in game 11 but the drama was only about to begin after creating two break chances in the next game that could have sent the set into a tie break.
Lleyton stayed calm to repel them with winners and did that with the third one as well after a 24-shot rally, although Roger earned another chance to secure the tie break. Hewitt denied it with a service winner and landed another one from his forehand to erase another break chance in what became a very frustrating game for the Swiss.
In the end, the Aussie finally wrapped up the set, winning it 7-5 after an hour and nine break points saved in games ten and 12! Roger served at only 41% in the opener but still had numerous opportunities to reach the tie break and fight for a more positive outcome, entering set number two with no room for errors.
Things went from bad to worse for the Basel native, getting broken at 15 in the opening game and falling 2-0 down after a service winner from Lleyton. Facing an elimination, Roger saved a break chance in the third game to remain within one break deficit before Hewitt closed the fourth game with an unreturned serve to move 3-1 up.
Federer finally found the way to break back in the sixth game when the Aussie hit a double fault, repeating that in the next game to find himself 4-3 down and push the opponent closer to the finish line. Serving in the next game, the Aussie repelled two break points to make another big step towards the victory, having the opportunity to seal the deal on the return in game ten.
Roger saved a match point with a strong forehand attack and broke back after another forehand down the line that Lleyton failed to control leveling the score at 5-5 and looking determined to advance into the final. Unlike in the opener, Federer had the upper hand in the crucial moments now, clinching another break in game 12 to steal the set 7-5, rattling off the last four games and saving that match point to prolong the encounter and extend his chances of reaching the final on debut.
Lleyton wasted three break points in the first game of the decider and it was Roger who had an enormous opportunity to move in front when he earned a break chance at 4-3. His backhand couldn't endure the pressure, though, allowing Hewitt to save the second break point with a short crosscourt backhand that forced an error from Federer at the net.
The Aussie brought the game home with a service winner, mighty relieved he was still on the positive side of the scoreboard before the deciding couple of games. After missing his chances, Roger suffered a break in the ninth game and just like in set number two, Lleyton served for the victory.
He wasted a match point after a double fault and a poor forehand from the world no. 1 delivered new hope for the Swiss who broke back in the very last moment to level the score at 5-5. That wasn't enough, though, double faulting in game 11 to send Lleyton ahead once again and this time there was no second chance for him, with Hewitt prevailing 7-5 after a forehand error from Federer in the last game of the match.
Roger had to end his season on the losing side after a notable campaign throughout the year and a memorable encounter with his coeval and great rival who went on to defend the title after an epic five-setter final against Juan Carlos Ferrero.