The U.S. Davis Cup team drew a tough first round match at home against Switzerland – and presumably five-time Wimbledon and U.S. champion Roger Federer – in the 2009 Davis Cup competition. The first round tie will be held March 6-8, 2009 at a site chosen by the United States Tennis Association. The last time the two nations met in Davis Cup play, Federer orchestrated one of the greatest single performances ever achieved by a player against a U.S. Davis Cup team, accounting for all three points in the 3-2 first round upset of the United States in 2001 in Basel, Switzerland. In review of this historic effort from Federer, the following is an excerpt from my upcoming book due out November 1 ON THIS DAY IN TENNIS HISTORY on that series as well as an excerpt from Rene Stauffer’s book THE ROGER FEDERER STORY, QUEST FOR PERFECTION which discusses the month of Feburary, 2001 – one of the most important in Federer’s career.
February 9, 2001 – Patrick McEnroe makes his debut as U.S. Davis Cup captain and his top player Jan-Michael Gambill wins his first “live” Davis Cup rubber in defeating Michel Kratochvil 6-3, 7-5, 6-4 as the United States and Switzerland split the opening two matches in the first day of play in the 2001 Davis Cup first round in Basel, Switzerland. Todd Martin is defeated by Swiss No. 1 Roger Federer 6-4, 7-6, 4-6, 6-1 in the opening rubber of the tie.
February 10, 2001 – Justin Gimelstob earns a dubious Davis Cup distinction when he and Jan-Michael Gambill are defeated by Switzerland’s Roger Federer and Lorenzo Manta 6-4, 6-2, 7-5 as the United States goes down 2-1 to the Swiss after the second day of play in the Davis Cup first round in Basel, Switzerland. The loss, which ultimately becomes his Davis Cup finale, drops Gimelstob’s Davis Cup record to 0-3, tying him with Robert Wrenn and Melville Long for the worst-ever record for a U.S. Davis Cup player. Wrenn loses two singles and a doubles match in the 1903 Davis Cup Challenge Round against Britain for his 0-3 record, while Long turns the same trick in the 1909 Davis Cup Challenge Round against Australasia. Gimelstob also loses in doubles with Todd Martin in the 1998 Davis Cup semifinal against Italy and, also in that tie, loses a dead-rubber singles match to Gianluca Pozzi.
February 11, 2001 – Roger Federer clinches a near single-handed victory for Switzerland over the United States in the first round of Davis Cup, defeating Jan-Michael Gambill 7-5, 6-2, 4-6, 6-2 in the 3-2 win in Federer’s hometown of Basel. Federer, who beat Todd Martin in the opening singles and paired with Lorenzo Manta to beat Gambill and Justin Gimelstob in the doubles rubber, becomes one of seven players to win three live matches against a U.S. Davis Cup team, joining Laurie Doherty of Britain, Henri Cochet of France, Frank Sedgman and Neale Fraser of Australia, Nicola Pietrangeli of Italy and Raul Ramirez of Mexico. Says Federer, the future world No. 1, “My total game was good the whole weekend. I can’t complain. I was serving well, feeling well from the baseline. … Usually when I get tired I let go a little bit mentally, but that was absolutely not the case. It was just total relief, total happiness at one time. I was so happy for the team, happy for Switzerland — to beat such a big country.” Eighteen-year-old Andy Roddick, another future world No. 1, makes his Davis Cup debut in the dead-rubber fifth-match and becomes the eighth-youngest American to play a Davis Cup match in defeating George Bastl 6-3, 6-4. Incidentally on the same day back in the United States, Venus and Serena Williams as well as Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras appear on the celebrated American television show “The Simpsons.”
Stauffer also documents Federer’s first ever ATP tournament victory in Milan, Italy the week before playing the United States in the tail end of his chapter “No Pain, No Gain.”
At the start of the season, Federer and Martina Hingis won the Hopman Cup in Perth. It was not an especially significant event but it was, after all, the International Tennis Federation’s sanctioned world mixed tennis tournament. He reached the third round of the Australian Open-avenging his Olympic loss to DiPasquale in the first round before losing to eventual finalist Arnaud Clement. February, however, became the best month of his career to date. At the indoor event in Milan, Italy after the Australian Open, Federer defeated Olympic Champion Yevgeny Kafelnikov for the first time in his career in the semifinals to reach his third career ATP singles final. Federer seized the opportunity and, with his parents in the stands cheering him on, he finally won his first ATP singles title, defeating No. 53-ranked Julien Boutter of France 6-4, 6-7 (7), 6-4.
Lundgren was correct. A milestone was achieved. “The relief is enormous,” Federer said. “I’ve had to wait a long time for this moment. It should get easier from here on out.” But the excursion to Milan didn’t end very happily for Roger’s father. In his excitement, he locked his car keys inside the car and had to smash in the car window to retrieve them.
A week later, another career milestone was achieved for the 19-year-old as he returned to Basel for Davis Cup duty against the United States. There was no stopping Federer. He beat Todd Martin and Jan-Michael Gambill in two breath-taking performances in singles, and in between, paired with Lorenzo Manta to defeat the American team of Gambill and Justin Gimelstob in doubles. With his three match victories in the 3-2 Swiss defeat of the USA, he joined Raul Ramirez, Neale Fraser, Nicola Pietrangeli, Frank Sedgman, Henri Cochet and Laurie Doherty as the seventh and the youngest player to win three live matches in a Davis Cup tie against the United States. “It’s like a dream,” said Federer, who shed tears of joy after his match-clinching victory over Gambill.
The Americans, by contrast, were stunned. “You’d have to be blind not to see that he’s got a great future in store for him,” said Gambill. U.S. Captain Patrick McEnroe didn’t try to make any excuses although he was missing his two strongest players, Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras, in this match. “We knew that Federer would be tough but we didn’t expect this,” he said. “Whenever he got hold of the ball, the point was his.”
February would bring even more success for Federer. The week after his single-handed defeat of the U.S. Davis Cup team, he reached the semifinals in Marseille where his 10-match winning streak was ended by Kafelnikov. The next week, he reached his fourth career singles final, losing to Nicolas Escude of France in a third-set tie-break in the final of Rotterdam. The ATP chose him their “Player of the Month” and effusively praised in their official press communication, “The Federer Express has arrived!” A playful warning was also issued in the press release stating that Federer, “has been blessed with so much talent that it almost seems unfair to his opponents.”