Roger Federer won his first Major title at Wimbledon 2003. The Swiss qualified for his second ATP Finals and went all the way to lift the trophy in Houston. Improving his game even more, Federer was a player to beat in 2004, winning 74 out of 80 matches and adding three Major crowns to his tally.
Tomas Berdych defeated the Swiss at the Olympic Games in Athens, and Roger would enter only three tournaments by the end of the season, winning them and wrapping up the year in style. The ATP Finals returned to Houston for the last time, and Roger was the clear favorite to defend the title.
Federer ousted Lleyton Hewitt and Gaston Gaudio before toppling Carlos Moya in three sets to find himself in the semi-final for the third time from as many appearances. Roger faced Marat Safin and beat the Russian for the sixth time in seven encounters.
Federer defended the second serve more efficiently, fending off two out of three break chances and providing two breaks from six opportunities for a 6-3, 7-6 win. The encounter's iconic feature came in the second-set tie break.
It saw 38 points, with two rivals pushing each other to the limits before Federer claimed it 20-18 to wrap up the triumph in straight sets and advance into the final. Federer hit 30 winners and 25 unforced errors, trailing to Safin in the shortest rallies up to four strokes but erasing the deficit in the most extended exchanges.
Roger held at 15 in the encounter's first game with a service winner and earned a break at love in game two when Marat placed a backhand long. Dominating so far, the Swiss held at love to confirm the break and sprint towards a 3-0 lead.
Marat added his name to the scoreboard with a volley winner in game four and held at love to reduce the deficit to 4-2, hoping for some return chances in the rest of the set.
Roger Federer prevailed over Marat Safin at the 2004 ATP Finals in Houston.
Instead, Roger closed the seventh game with a forehand down the line winner to remain in front.
He squandered two set points on the return at 5-2 before wrapping up the opener with a hold at 30 in the next one for 6-3. Safin survived six deuces and two break chances at the beginning of the second set to avoid an early setback.
The Russian earned a break in game two when Federer netted a backhand to gain momentum. The Russian forged a 3-0 advantage with a hold at love, looking good to force a decider and extend the battle. Marat closed the fifth game with an ace, remaining in front and creating two more break chances a few minutes later.
Federer saved those to prolong the set and gain a boost. He broke back a few minutes later and brought the eighth game home at 15 to level the score at 4-4. Roger grabbed four straight points at 0-30 in the 12th game to introduce a tie break that turned into an epic one!
Marat saved a match point at 5-6 and six more, giving his best and receiving help from the chair umpire, who made massive mistakes. Federer repelled six set points and moved 19-18 ahead following Safin's double fault. Roger seized the eighth match point when Marat placed a forehand beyond the baseline, celebrating a tricky victory and hoping for more of the same against Lleyton Hewitt in the final.