Roger Federer proved his immense talent and quality in 2003, winning his first Major crown at Wimbledon and making a massive step toward the no. 1 spot. Roger claimed his first ATP Finals title in Houston to end the season on a high note before returning even stronger in 2004.
The Swiss clinched 74 out of 80 matches and lifted three Major crowns to become world no. 1 after Melbourne at the beginning of the season. After a surprising loss to Tomas Berdych at the Olympics in Athens, Federer would enter only three tournaments by the end of the season.
He conquered the US Open, Bangkok and the ATP Finals to wrap up the year with 11 trophies on his tally. The ATP Finals returned to Houston for the second and last time, and it was all about the Swiss star, like 12 months ago when he defeated Andre Agassi in the final.
Federer lost only one set in five clashes against Carlos Moya in the round-robin stage. He reached the final after a solid win over Marat Safin in the semi-final and the second-set tie break that saw 38 points! Despite losing to Roger in the group stage, Lleyton Hewitt advanced into the title match.
However, the Swiss proved too strong, toppling the Aussie 6-3, 6-2 in 67 minutes. The rain plagued the event, and the final had to be cut to the best-of-three format for the first time since 1979. Federer and Hewitt were among the best players of their generation, and it was already the 15th meeting, with Roger taking an 8-7 lead in the rivalry.
Before 2004, Lleyton had the upper hand in the encounters against the Swiss. He grabbed seven of the first nine encounters before Roger turned the tide that season. Federer clinched six wins against Hewitt and would drop just two more matches against the Adelaide native before Lleyton retired!
A few months earlier, Federer took down Hewitt 6-0, 7-6, 6-0 in the US Open final, in what had been one of the most one-sided finals in New York in the Open era. This Houston match turned into a similar affair, as Roger dominated from start to finish to defend the title.
He lost 11 points in nine service games and never faced a deuce or a break point. The Swiss created the freedom to attack the return and keep the pressure on Lleyton, who could not endure it. The Aussie served at 51%, which could only mean trouble for him, dropping almost half of the points behind the initial shot and offering Roger eight break chances.
Roger Federer defended the ATP Finals title over Lleyton Hewitt in 2004.
Federer converted three of those, more than enough to bring the match home safely. Roger's aggression proved too much to handle for Lleyton, who failed to impose his shots and put pressure on his rival's backhand, drawing only 12 mistakes from Federer's weaker wing.
That could not make the difference, as Roger stayed in most rallies when Lleyton tried to target his backhand. Federer would send them across the net with depth and precision, allowing him to prolong the points and earn the opportunity to strike with his forehand.
Lleyton could not move Roger around the court with his persistent groundstrokes, as the Swiss was on almost every ball. Untroubled on serve, Federer could play with more risk in the rallies. He outplayed Lleyton in the winners department and earned the victory in that segment since they had a similar number of mistakes.
World no. 1 had a 17-11 advantage in service winners. Also, he built an even more significant 19-7 one in the field's direct points, wrapping up the encounter with twice as many winners as his opponent. His forehand worked great, and he was comfortable at the net, adding seven volley winners to his tally.
Lleyton hit only seven winners from the court in the entire clash, an excellent indicator of how inferior he was in the exchanges and how well Roger covered the court. Federer had 16 unforced errors, ten from his backhand, which did not bother him much as long as he had so many winners.
The initial groundstroke made a great difference in Federer's favor, with a 45-21 lead in the points up to four strokes. He could fire up the point right on, while Hewitt needed some time to settle into the rally and try to impose his shots, something Roger was unwilling to let him do.
The mid-range points from five to eight strokes also finished noticeably on Roger's side, clinching 21 out of 30. Hewitt won ten of the 16 most extended exchanges, far from enough to help him achieve a more decent result. Interestingly, Hewitt and Federer were the dominant figures at the ATP Finals in the early 2000s.
Lleyton lifted the trophy in 2001 and 2002, and Roger took charge in the following two years. Federer broke in the encounter's second game and carried that advantage home after losing only five points in five service games.
He wrapped up the set at 5-3 with a forehand winner and moved closer to the finish line. Lleyton fended off three break chances in the second set's first game. He stayed in touch until 2-2 when he netted a backhand to hand Roger a break of serve.
The Swiss never looked back and rattled off the last five games from 1-2. Roger sealed the deal with a service winner at 5-2 for his second consecutive ATP Finals crown.