Roger Federer’s First U.S. Open Title
In 2004, Roger Federer entered the US Open after a disappointing showing at the Olympic Games in Athens, losing in the second round of both singles and doubles. He had won twice at Wimbledon and secured one title at the Australian Open, but had to conqueror the concrete courts of the Flushing Meadows. Rene Stauffer, the author of the book ROGER FEDERER: QUEST FOR PERFECTION, $19.95, New Chapter Press, www.RogerFedererBook.com) takes readers back to the 2004 US Open in this book excerpt.
The US Open is known as one of the most chaotic of the Grand Slam tournaments and a tournament that many find too difficult to win, including Björn Borg. “The US Open is the Grand Slam tournament that is the most difficult to win,” said Andre Agassi. Many others agree with him. “Somebody could stand up in the grandstands and play saxophone and it wouldn’t bother anybody,” Boris Becker noted in his younger years.
Federer shed his once chronic lack of success in the United States by winning two of America’s four biggest titles at the Tennis Masters Cup in Houston and the Pacific Life Open in Indian Wells. Like at Wimbledon, he arrived early in New York in order to calmly prepare for the tournament. Besides his practice sessions and workouts, he spent his time going to such Broadway musicals as Beauty and the Beast and The Boy from Oz. He also conducted pre-event media interviews and kept up with his sponsor obligations.
He even supported his fellow Swiss Davis Cup team members, watching them compete in the US Open qualifying tournament—a very unusual thing for the world’s No. 1 player to do.
The weaknesses that he showed in Cincinnati and at the Olympics were not evident at the US Open. Was it perhaps due to the fact that his hair began to grow back? In any case, he had little trouble advancing into the quarterfinals, where he faced Agassi, now age 34. After a European summer highlighted by physical problems and unexpected defeats, Agassi found his groove on the American hard courts, defeating both Roddick and Hewitt to win the title in Cincinnati—his first title in over a year. Agassi’s confidence was high.
In one of the US Open’s celebrated night matches, Federer and Agassi battled on Wednesday evening, September 8, and Federer immediately found his rhythm. He was leading 6-3, 2-6, 7-5 when it began raining and play was postponed. The match resumed the following afternoon and the players were greeted with gale force winds—as part of the weather front that swept through New York as a leftover from Hurricane Frances that battered Florida earlier in the week. Federer described the wind swirls as being the worst conditions that he ever played under. “Just five years ago I would have gone nuts playing in such a wind,” he said.
The wind forced Federer to change tactics. He no longer tried to go for winners and display his usual aggressive style, but concentrated on getting the ball and his serves over the net and simply into play—which in the windy conditions was itself a challenge. “I played just like at practice and that was the right recipe,” he said. A 6-3, 2-6, 7-5, 3-6, 6-3 win over Agassi put him into the semifinals of the US Open for the first time, where he would face an old acquaintance, Tim Henman. The 30-year-old Brit won six of his eight career matches with his Swiss rival, but Federer was a different player than many of the previous matches, with more self-confidence and stamina. As in March in Indian Wells, Federer encountered little resistance with Henman, winning 6-3, 6-3, 6-4 to advance into the championship match at the US Open for the first time.
Awaiting him in the final was another of his past nemeses, Lleyton Hewitt, the 2001 US Open champion. The Australian skipped the Olympic Games, but won the two ATP tournaments played concurrently to the Olympics in Washington, D.C. and in Long Island. Entering his match with Federer, he won his last 16 matches and did not surrender a set in his six-match run to the final.
It only took 17 minutes for Federer to hand Hewitt his first lost set of the tournament, losing only five points in a near perfect execution of tennis. When Hewitt won his first game of the match after Federer led 6-0, 2-0, the crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium gave him a standing ovation. Federer continued to be the much stronger player, until a lapse of concentration and a run of errors and missed serves allowed Hewitt to win four straight games after trailing 2-5 in the second set.
“If he had managed to win the second set, it would have turned out to be an entirely different match,” Federer said. “I forced myself to keep positive. I said to myself that I only got this break because I was playing against the wind and I was serving with old balls. When I changed sides, everything actually did go easier.”
Federer held serve at 5-6 to force the tiebreak and won that 7-3. The two-set lead broke Hewitt’s resistance and Federer plowed through the final set 6-0 to win his first US Open championship.
“First I was surprised that Lleyton was no longer getting to the ball,” Federer said of his moment of victory. “Then I was suddenly lying on my back, looking into the sky at the lights of the stadium. I thought, ‘That’s unbelievable.’ Once again I was close to tears.”