Roger Federer became one of the best players in the world in 2002, lifting his first Masters 1000 trophy in Hamburg and finally cracking the top-10 on the following day. The youngster couldn't keep that form for too long, though, suffering early losses at Roland Garros and Wimbledon and dropping six out of nine encounters ahead of the US Open where he advanced into the fourth round, losing to Max Mirnyi in straight sets.
Fighting for the place at the Masters Cup for the first time, Federer embraced a rock-solid indoor streak, winning the title in Vienna, reaching the quarter-final in Madrid and the semi-final at home in Basel. Trying to reach the title match in his hometown for the third straight year, Federer experienced a tight 6-7, 7-5, 6-3 defeat to David Nalbandian in two hours and 13 minutes, overcoming a 5-3, deficit in the opener and having a break in sets two and three, only to find himself on the losing side.
In the end, Roger found himself at the Masters Cup, advancing into the semi-final and finishing the season on a high note. The following 2003 didn't start that well, as the Swiss had to deal with a leg injury in Doha and Sydney, failing to regain the title before heading to Melbourne for the first Major of the season.
There, Roger defeated Flavio Saretta and Lars Burgsmuller in straight sets to move into the last 32 where the Swede Andreas Vinciguerra fell 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 in an hour and 36 minutes. Federer lost 17 points in 14 service games, suffering one break and maintaining the pressure on the other side of the net to earn five breaks that carried him home in no time at all, setting the last 16 duel versus David Nalbandian, trying to beat him for the first time in professional matches.
"My next rival is David Nalbandian. I lost to him in Basel and Monte Carlo and scored a victory in the semi-final of the junior Orange Bowl in 1998. That Basel loss was a tough one for me; I should have won that one and I'm looking forward to taking revenge here in Melbourne.
It will not be easy, though; he has a great backhand and return; his all-around game is on a high level. He is more aggressive than most of the Argentines and I will have to watch out."