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To commemorate Roger Federer’s 40th birthday on August 8, we’re looking back at four matches that define the grit, craft and determination that has propelled him to 20 Grand Slam singles titles and 310 weeks atop the ATP rankings.

Up next: conquering the elements—and Andre Agassi—en route to his first US Open title in 2004.

Federer arrived in New York already having won eight titles through the first eight months of 2004.

Federer arrived in New York already having won eight titles through the first eight months of 2004.

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THE MOMENT: Though Federer won his first Grand Slam title in 2003, he wouldn’t firmly establish his dominanceand arguably lay down his career opus—until the following season. In the first eight months of the year, he captured eight titles, including two of the first three major win, and began his longest stretch atop the ATP rankings. Despite early defeats at Roland Garros and the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, he nonetheless amassed an audacious 60-6 match record heading into the US Open.

New York was the final frontier for Federer, the only major where he had yet to surpass the fourth round, the stage in which he’d bottomed out in 2003 to early-career nemesis David Nalbandian. A heavy favorite to end that streak after winning the Canadian Masters 1000 title over Andy Roddick, he eased into the quarterfinals after receiving a walkover from Andrei Pavel.

Awaiting him in the last eight was Andre Agassi, the man who defined lights, camera and action for a generation of tennis fans. Where Pete Sampras won 14 major titles with his serve, Agassi won eight off the strength of a precise return—and at 34, was still contending for more.

Federer had won his last three meetings against the sixth-ranked American veteran, most recently in Indian Wells from a set down, earlier that year. A rainy second week in Flushing Meadows saw the two begin their quarterfinal clash late in the evening on Arthur Ashe Stadium, and Federer out-rally Agassi to break first and serve out the opening set.

Confidence can slip away very quickly in such conditions…You would touch the ball and the ball would fly a long, long way. Roger Federer

With the top seed leading two sets to one, more rain postponed the affair into Thursday morning. A revitalized Agassi hit through blustery conditions to force a fifth set with the crowd on his side.

“I had my game plan, play aggressive, try to play same way as last night,” Federer said after the match. “I realized, ‘Well, this probably won't work. You have to play safer, make sure you get your first serve into play,’ these kind of things. Confidence can slip away very quickly in such conditions…You would touch the ball and the ball would fly a long, long way.

“So, in the end it was more just trying to wait for the opponent's mistake and, you know, I guess the difference today was that I was up two sets to one, you know. He made one mistake and he loses the match. I make one mistake and I lose only one set. So, that was my advantage today.”

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WATCH: Underrated Traits of the Greats: Roger Federer and winning ugly

Where Federer was hailed for his complete game, it was his supreme serving that truly set him apart in this stretch of his career, and is what helped him keep Agassi at bay through seven tense games to kick off the decider. Returning up 4-3, he pulled off a brilliant lob to save a break point, and worked all his magic to keep the ball in play on a subsequent break point, letting out a roar when Agassi at last pulled a forehand wide.

Facing one last challenge from the Agassi return, Federer served out the 6-3, 2-6, 7-5, 3-6, 6-3 classic with a 121-m.p.h. bomb up the T on the deuce court, completing a career Sampras-Agassi double at majors and foreshadowing what would be a five-year reign as US Open champion.

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Federer would go on to defeat 2001 champion Lleyton Hewitt to win his first of five US Open titles.

Federer would go on to defeat 2001 champion Lleyton Hewitt to win his first of five US Open titles.

THE MEANING: Federer would end 2004 undefeated through his next 12 matches to enjoy a .925 winning percentage, the best since Ivan Lendl in 1986. He also became the first man since Mats Wilander in 1988 to win three majors in one season.

He would, most improbably, repeat the major treble twice more in the next three years and win a total of 13 majorsone short of Sampras’ recordby the 2007 US Open, where he eased past a young Serbian named Novak Djokovic in the final.

It was Federer at the very peak of his powers; rivals like Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray were all rising, but the Swiss had each of their numbers when it mattered most.

Seismic shifts occurred beginning in 2008: Djokovic avenged his Flushing Meadows defeat and won his first major title in Melbourne, while Nadal became the first player since Bjorn Borg to win Roland Garros and Wimbledon, taking the latter in an all-time epic over Federer.

Reduced to tears after a third straight finals loss to Nadal at the 2009 Australian Open, the Open Era record suddenly appeared in doubt, until a fateful trip to Paris…