ATP Finals Flashback: Roger Federer and Marat Safin embrace a cracking tie break

Roger Federer and Marat Safin battled at the ATP Finals in Houston 2004

by Jovica Ilic
ATP Finals Flashback: Roger Federer and Marat Safin embrace a cracking tie break
© Matthew Stockman / Staff - Getty Images Sport

The defending champion Roger Federer was the favorite at the ATP Finals in Houston 2004. The Swiss claimed three Major crowns that year, embracing a reduced schedule in the final part of the season and wrapping it up in style.

Roger met Lleyton Hewitt, Gaston Gaudio and Carlos Moya in the round-robin stage, defeating them and reaching his third consecutive ATP Finals semi-final. Federer arranged the clash against Marat Safin and scored a 6-3, 7-6 victory.

Tennis fans remember this duel for its incredible second set's tie break that went down to the wire, with Federer taking it 20-18 to seal the deal and advance into the final. Roger landed 30 winners and 25 unforced errors, trailing in the shortest exchanges but improving that in the mid-range and the most extended ones.

Federer kicked off the action with a service winner in the encounter's first game and broke Safin at love in the next one when the Russian placed a backhand long. The Swiss grabbed the third game at love, cementing the advantage and controlling the pace.

Marat won the fourth game with a volley winner and held at love two games later, remaining within one break deficit.

Roger Federer defeated Marat Safin at the 2004 ATP Finals in Houston.

Roger closed the seventh game with a forehand down the line winner, forging a 5-2 lead and forcing Marat to serve to stay in the set.

Safin defended two set points, bringing the game home and prolonging the battle. World no. 1 served for the opener at 5-3 and held at 30 to secure the first part of the duel, hoping for more in set number two. Marat had to work hard at the beginning of the second set, surviving six deuces and two break points and holding to stay on the positive side.

That game became even more critical when the Russian broke the Swiss in game two after Roger's backhand error. Safin held at love in the third game, playing his best tennis in the last ten minutes and moving 3-0 in front. Marat gained a 4-1 lead with an ace in game five, looking good to force a decider.

Roger struggled behind the initial shot and faced two break points in game six. Federer denied them and held, remaining within one break deficit and gaining a boost. World no. 1 pulled the break back in game seven and held at 15 in the next one, locking the result at 4-4.

Roger served to stay in the set in game 12 and came from 30-0 down to introduce a tie break. They turned it into a memorable one, with 38 points and an incredible battle. Marat denied a match point at 5-6 and survived six more, staying in touch and receiving help from the chair umpire, who made several massive mistakes.

Federer also felt the pressure, denying six set points and opening a 19-18 gap after Safin's double fault. Roger seized his eighth match point when Marat placed a forehand beyond the baseline, celebrating a tricky victory and setting the title clash against Lleyton Hewitt.

Atp Finals Roger Federer Marat Safin