Roger Federer and Andy Roddick, both riding their big serves, opened the season-ending Tennis Masters Cup with three-set victories yesterday.
Federer rallied for a 3-6, 6-1, 6-1 win over defending champion David Nalbandian before Roddick defeated Ivan Ljubicic 6-4, 6-7 (9), 6-1 in the other Red Group match.
Last year, Federer beat Nalbandian to begin the season-ending tournament featuring the world's top eight players, then was upset by the Argentine in a thrilling five-set title match.
The Gold Group plays its first round-robin matches tonight when French Open champion Rafael Nadal takes on America's James Blake and Nikolay Davydenko of Russia faces Spaniard Tommy Robredo.
Federer slammed nine aces to make up for his slow start against Nalbandian on the hard court of the Qi Zhong Tennis Center.
Roddick blasted 19 aces, but it was his serve-and-volley tactics that proved to be the difference against Ljubicic.
"He is a little different player," the Croatian said of the change in Roddick's normal baseline game.
The American ventured to the net 60 times, and it proved to be a winning strategy.
"It's definitely something I wanted to try against Ivan," Roddick said. "I didn't want him to get comfortable trying to block the returns back in the court and get back in baseline rallies. I felt I took that aspect of his game away with the serve-and-volley play."
Federer had problems finding the court in the opening set as his shots from both sides sailed long or found the net. After that, the problems were all Nalbandian's.
On one point, Nalbandian was in complete control, pounding the ball into the far corners, only to have Federer use his quickness to get every shot back until the Argentine, trying to hit even harder, slammed the ball into the bottom of the net.
"I was playing OK," said Nalbandian, who had problems with his serve the entire match. "But then in the second set and the third I fall down a little bit. Without the help of my first serve, it's quite tough."
Federer admitted he had a tough start.
"He returned well, he really took my second serve and returned it easily," the Swiss star said. "So I tried to get a break early in the second set and hang on to it. I really got on top of him after that."
"In the third set I think the momentum was on my side, Federer added.