Twenty-one years ago, the 19-year-old Roger Federer had a chance to compete in Sydney for the first time at the brand new Sydney Olympic Park, defending the national colors and barely missing a chance to win a medal. Ranked inside the top-30, the promising Swiss returned to Sydney a few months later to play the ATP 250 event, losing in the quarter-final to Sebastien Grosjean.
Roger returned stronger in 2002, heading to Sydney as the top-15 player and Pete Sampras conqueror at Wimbledon. Roger was among the title favorites together with another young gun Andy Roddick. He made no mistakes this time around, going all the way to lift his second ATP title and first out of many on the Australian soil ahead of the glory years in Melbourne.
It wasn't a smooth ride towards the crown, though, facing Tommy Robredo in the opening round and beating the Spaniard 7-6, 7-6 in an hour and 27 minutes, winning just four points more than his rival and prevailing in both breakers to reach the last 16.
Another player from the upcoming generation, Xavier Malisse, awaited in round two. Federer scored a 6-2, 6-4 triumph in 68 minutes, struggling on his serve despite a positive result and facing no less than 15 break chances, fending off 12 of those to limit the damage and keep the pressure on the other side of the net.
The Belgian was even worse behind the initial shot, dropping almost 60% of his games' points and giving the serve away six times from ten chances offered to Roger. In the quarters, Federer needed nearly two hours to overpower a former world no.
1 Marcelo Rios 6-7, 7-6, 6-3, winning just three points more than the Chilean and standing on the verge of defeat in set number two. Federer got broken only once and arranged a comeback in set number two before sealing the deal in the decider for the place in the last four.
There, he took down a hard-hitting American Andy Roddick 7-6, 6-4 in just 81 minutes after taming the rival's booming first serve and imposing his shots, especially in the pivotal moments of both sets to enter his sixth ATP final at 20.
Juan Ignacio Chela stood between Roger Federer and his second ATP title, facing the only player from outside the top-50 that week in Sydney. The Swiss wrapped up a 6-3, 6-3 triumph in dominant style and swift 53 minutes to lift the trophy and make a perfect start of the season that would bring his first Masters 1000 crown four months later.
It was their first meeting, and the better-ranked player had the upper hand from start to finish on the surface that suited his game much more than his rival. Chela took just ten points on the return, earning no break opportunities and failing to match that pace in his games, struggling on the second serve and getting broken on all three chances donated to Roger.
They made a similar number of errors, but the more aggressive player had a clear advantage in the winners department, hitting more than 20 and reducing Juan Ignacio to under ten, controlling the pace with his serve and sharp groundstrokes and bringing the match home to become the champion.
As was expected, Chela stayed in touch with Federer in the longer rallies, although he had to overpower Roger in that department to stand any chance. Still, he was powerless in the shortest exchanges up to four strokes where Roger's initial shot made all the difference to guide him towards the finish line.
It was a solid start for both competitors, but Roger had better numbers, sailing through his games and waiting for a chance on the return. It came in the sixth game when he forced Juan Ignacio's error, moving ahead and gaining momentum.
That proved to be the only loose service game of the entire set, and Federer secured it with three winners on serve in game nine, gaining a 6-3 advantage after just 24 minutes and hoping for more of the same in set number two.
Brilliant attack and a volley winner at the net in game three gave Roger the desired break, holding after two deuces in the next one to confirm the lead and landing three winners at 3-2 to stay in front. Serving to stay in the match in the ninth game, Chela gave serve away when Roger landed a volley winner, allowing the Swiss to celebrate the title and gain a boost ahead of the Australian Open.