In 2003, the ATP Finals returned to the United States for the first time since 1989, staged on the outdoor hard court at the Westside Tennis Club in Houston. It was the first ATP Finals on an outdoor court since Melbourne 1974, gathering a high-quality field of competitors led by Andy Roddick, Juan Carlos Ferrero, and Andre Agassi.
Still, the Wimbledon champion Roger Federer defeated all five rivals to grab his first trophy at his second ATP Finals. Roger had to dig deep to oust Agassi in the round-robin stage, beating the American 6-7, 6-3, 7-6 after saving two match points in the deciding tie break.
Two rivals passed the group and met again in the title match. Federer proved too tough to handle for the veteran and scored a 6-3, 6-0, 6-4 triumph in an hour and 36 minutes after a rain delay on November 16. Agassi won the Australian Open and Miami at the beginning of the season and stayed in touch with much younger opponents to secure another ATP Finals berth.
His debut at this event came 15 years earlier, in 1988, at 18, seeking the second title after 1990. However, Andre stood no chance in this final. Roger dropped just 17 points in 12 service games against one of the best returners ever, never facing a break point and keeping the pressure on the other side.
The Swiss was sharp and aggressive, determined to keep the points on his racquet and avoid the longer rallies against one of the world's best baseliners. Andre was outplayed in almost every segment. He lost 46% of the points in his games and never found a proper answer for the well-balanced and smart tennis produced by the young Swiss.
As usual in his great triumphs, especially in those early years, Federer kept his backhand safe. He gained the freedom to attack with his forehand and stay pumped and confident in everything he planned to do. The American often served to Roger's backhand, and the youngster was ready for that pattern.
He allowed Andre to his just 13 service winners and got a chance to impose his shots after a deep return. The groundstrokes were not there for the home favorite. He made too many errors and failed to open the court and place some comfortable winners, needing them badly against such a strong rival.
We saw just a few good combos of serve and groundstroke from Andre. On the other hand, Roger stole the show after hitting winners from all over the court and defending well from his weaker backhand wing to keep his rival weak and vulnerable.
Federer moved around the court with mesmerizing efficiency, ready to hit almost every ball in full swing and defend his backhand with slices and slower shots that would take the pace away and leave Agassi with nothing to work with.
Roger Federer defeated Andre Agassi in Houston for the 2003 ATP Finals crown.
Federer hit nine winners from his backhand, an excellent addition to many direct points from the forehand side. The Swiss used every opportunity to push down the line strokes that damaged his rival significantly.
Andre's backhand was off, and it could not give him the upper hand in the crosscourt exchanges. The veteran finished the encounter with just two winners from that wing. Agassi took control in his service games in the third set and forced many errors from Federer.
Still, he could not repeat that regularly as his groundstrokes lacked depth and power against the opponent who did not leave him any room. Roger had 25 service winners against Andre's 13, dismantling the rival entirely in the field's direct points after building a 26-11 advantage.
Federer's forehand was lethal, notching 15 winners and forcing many errors from Andre. Also, the Swiss fired almost as many winners from his backhand as the American had overall. Agassi sprayed 19 unforced errors, never finding the timing and rhythm.
Roger stayed on 12, a great number considering how many direct points he had. Only four of those came from his backhand, which illustrates how well he played that day. The Swiss finished the clash with more forced errors, 16 to 13, without impacting the overall scoreboard.
They concluded 66% of the points in the shortest range up to four strokes. Roger had a clear 60-36 advantage thanks to a fantastic display on serve and the first groundstroke. He overpowered Andre in the mid-range exchanges, winning 20 out of 32 and leaving the American with a slight advantage in the most extended rallies, 9-7.
The Swiss grabbed a break in the opener's fourth game and served well to clinch it 6-3. Roger was the only player on the court in set number two, delivering a bagel and thundering toward the finish line. Agassi survived a couple of challenging service games at the beginning of the third set.
Still, he got broken at 4-4 and allowed Roger to seal the deal with another comfortable hold in game ten that carried him toward the title.