In 2003, five of the year-end top-8 players were younger than 24. The upcoming stars conquered the last three Majors of the season, occupying the top-3 positions and pumping fresh blood into men's tennis. Roger Federer was among those youngsters to beat, winning his first Major title at Wimbledon and having a chance to reach the ATP throne in the following events.
Other youngsters, Andy Roddick and David Nalbandian spoiled Roger's plan, and the Swiss had to finish the season ranked 2nd behind the American. Still, the "second prize" came at the ATP Masters Cup, where Federer picked his third notable title in a career after scoring all five triumphs.
With tough challenges ahead of him, Roger ousted Andre Agassi and David Nalbandian for the first time on the Tour, gathering confidence and storming over Juan Carlos Ferrero to strongly reach the semi-final. World no. 1 Andy Roddick could meet Federer's pace only in the opening set, as the Swiss notched a 7-6, 6-2 triumph for his first title match at this event.
For the second time that week in Houston, Federer played against Agassi in the battle for the trophy, playing on a high level to deliver a 6-3, 6-0, 6-4 victory. Roger never faced a break chance, securing five breaks to march over the finish line.
The Swiss dropped 17 points in 12 service games, avoiding troubles in his games and earning five breaks to leave the veteran far behind. Federer grabbed 46% of the return points, doing enough in sets one and three and completely outplaying Andre in the second after producing a bagel.
The younger player had 51 winners and 12 unforced errors, doing a lot of damage with his serve and the first groundstroke to create a 60-36 gap in the shortest range up to four strokes. Roger grabbed the first break in the fourth game, closing the opener with a hold at 5-3 and hoping for more of the same in set number two.
Andre won only four points on serve in set number two, suffering a bagel and propelling Federer a set away from victory.
The American raised his level in the opening eight games of the third set, surviving two challenging games to stay in touch.
In the ninth game, Federer grabbed a crucial break that pushed him 5-4 ahead, sealing the deal with an ace a couple of minutes later and finishing the season at the top of men's tennis. "I saw many guys coming up when Lleyton Hewitt and Marat Safin were dominating the game.
Those youngsters can give a new wave into tennis and make it more popular again. Tennis has been going down but we are trying to change that and make it even better. We are willing to make the game work again. Everything we do during tournaments and between the matches, it's good for the game. We all get along with each other and that's a positive sign for the future," said Roger Federer.