Roger Federer arrived in Houston for the ATP Master Cup 2003 to raise his level from the last couple of tournaments and challenge the other top-10 rivals. Roger won the Vienna title but did not play well in Madrid despite reaching the semis, suffering early defeats in Basel and Paris in the following weeks and hoping to change that in Houston.
Federer faced the local favorite Andre Agassi in the first group encounter, digging deep to oust veteran 6-7, 6-3, 7-6. After the first set, Roger settled into a nice rhythm to find himself 5-3 up in the decider. Andre bounced back with a late break to extend the clash and reach the tie break, where he earned two match points.
Federer kept his coolness to repelled those and sealed the breaker 9-7 to notch the first triumph over the American. Playing against another rival he had never defeated, Federer produced top-class tennis to topple David Nalbandian 6-3, 6-0.
The Swiss did everything right on the court, controlling the pace on both serve and return to oust the Argentine for the first time in six encounters. In the last round-robin clash, Roger took down world no. 2 Juan Carlos Ferrero 6-3, 6-1 to advance into the semis in style, avenging the Madrid loss.
Federer saved all three break points and delivered four breaks of serve to have the upper hand. The Swiss had 23 winners and 12 unforced errors, tamed his strokes nicely and mastered the Spaniard in the more advanced exchanges.
Roger was off to a strong start, securing a break at 15 in the second game and overcoming a slight scare in the third to forge a 3-0 lead. They both served well by the end of the set, and Federer claimed it 6-3 before preparing another attack in the second.
Roger Federer spoke about the upcoming rivals at the Masters Cup 2003 in Houston.
After Juan Carlos' double fault, he grabbed a break in the third game and clinched another at 3-1 before moving over the top on the third match point in game seven.
Asked about the upcoming stars, Roger said he was not afraid of Rafael Nadal and Richard Gasquet, mentioning his experience in comparison to them as his advantage. At 17, Nadal and Gasquet were the youngest players in the season-ending top-100.
The Spaniard made significant steps towards the top and earned an impressive win over Roger in March 2004 in Miami to introduce himself to the tennis world. "For a couple of years, the young players have been emerging and moving closer to the top.
Sampras has retired, and we all have to prove ourselves. Also, we are not that young; we are all 22 or 23. There are younger candidates than us, like Rafael Nadal and Richard Gasquet. I'm not afraid of them as I have more experience; I have been on the Tour for five or six years," Roger Federer said.