Back in 2003, Roger Federer embraced a busy schedule after competing at 95 matches, winning his first Major crown at Wimbledon and the Masters Cup in Houston. The young Swiss had a chance to become world no. 1 in Montreal but Andy Roddick spoiled the party, although it was already clear it would happen sooner or later.
Federer had to wait until February 2 next year to ascend the ATP throne, earning it after lifting the second Grand Slam trophy at the Australian Open a day earlier. In the final match, the 22-year-old took down Marat Safin 7-6, 6-4, 6-2 in two hours and 15 minutes for the first crown at Melbourne Park, in his fifth trip to down under.
The Russian missed a big part of the 2003 season due to an injury, arriving in Melbourne ranked 86th but confident in his game and abilities to play on a high level again. A former finalist produced some first-class tennis to reach the title match, beating the defending champion Andre Agassi and the top seed Andy Roddick but losing too much energy in those encounters ahead of the final showdown.
Safin did win six matches but the problem for him laid in the fact he lost nine sets in total, including five-setters against the mentioned Americans in the previous two rounds, standing pretty much done and dusted when Roger claimed the opening set in the tie break.
They both struggled to find the first serve but Federer had to play against just three break chances, dropping serve twice and mounting the pressure on Safin all the time, earning no less than 18 break chances and seizing five to bring the victory home in straight sets.
Roger had a clear advantage in the shortest points, producing much damage with his booming serve and an initial forehand that left Marat with no answer. Despite his tiredness, the Russian had a slim edge in the mid-range and longer exchanges but that wasn't enough to give him more favorable result, facing just too many break points to stand any chance against such a strong rival.
Safin was off to a great start, breaking Roger in game three when the Swiss netted an easy forehand to find himself in front. Federer didn't have to chase the result for too long, breaking back a few minutes later with a solid forehand attack that Safin failed to control, delivering another break in game six to take a 4-2 lead.
Marat was there to compete, though, pulling the break back in the next game when he forced Roger's error with his trademark backhand down the line shot that the Swiss couldn't handle. Safin was in all kind of troubles in the last game of the set, coming from a 40-15 down to fend off two set points and set up the tie break that started with four consecutive mini-breaks.
Federer seized control after that, clinching the set with a forehand down the line winner in the tenth point and gaining a massive boost that left tired Safin almost without a chance of making a comeback. The level of tennis dropped a little bit in set number two and it was Federer who grabbed the first break at 2-2, holding at love after that to cement the break and gain full control.
Marat broke his second racquet of the match after a double fault in game seven that gave Roger another break chance, with the Russian somehow finding the way to stay unbroken and avoid a double break deficit. Despite the opportunity that he wasted, Roger sailed through his service games, having the upper hand on the return as well and creating three set points at 5-3.
Safin repelled them all but could only prolong the set for another game, as Roger held at love again in game ten to notch the set 6-4 and move closer to the finish line. Nothing seemed to be working for the Russian who had to give serve away in the third game of the third set, saving the first three break chances with some excellent ball-striking before falling on the fourth when his backhand found the net.
With the victory in his sight, Roger allowed three deuces on serve in the next game but held in the end for a 3-1 lead, putting the pressure back on Safin who could see clear writings on the wall when he got broken again in game five.
Roger extended the advantage with a glorious forehand winner, sealing the deal when Marat sprayed a forehand mistake at 2-5, celebrating the second Grand Slam title in seven months and the first at the Australian Open that made him world's best player.