Roger Federer is known for showing his emotions – almost as much as he is for winning major tennis titles. At the 2009 Australian Open, Federer could not hide his disappointment in losing an epic five-set final to Rafael Nadal. Federer began weeping uncontrollably in the post-match ceremony when asked to make his obligatory runner-up speech. The emotional breakdown overshadowed other occasions when Federer shed tears in high visibility moments. One such moment was four years ago today, January 29, 2006, when Federer became emotional after Rod Laver presented him with the Norman Brookes Trophy after beating Marcos Baghdatis in the championship match.
Rene Stauffer, the author of the book THE ROGER FEDERER STORY: QUEST FOR PERFECTION ($24.95, New Chapter Press, www.RogerFedererBook.com), documents Federer’s 2006 Australian title – that concluded in tears – in this exclusive book excerpt.
In his six matches en route to the final, Federer lost four sets—more than previously surrendered while reaching a Grand Slam final. The man from Basel, however, was still the overwhelming favorite to win the title when he faced unseeded upstart Marcos Baghdatis—a 200-1 outsider to win the title. The 20-year-old bearded maverick from the island of Cyprus was the major story of the tournament—defeating Andy Roddick, Ivan Ljubicic and David Nalbandian in succession to become an unlikely Grand Slam finalist. Cyprus, a small island nation off the Greek and Turkish coast in the Mediterranean with no tennis history whatsoever, was suddenly stricken with tennis fever as businesses closed and children skipped school to watch his matches. Baghdatis was unseeded, ranked No. 54 in the world and had never won an ATP tournament in his career at the time. To boot, he held an 0-3 record against Federer and Federer had never lost a Grand Slam final—let alone to an unseeded player.
The Melbourne Age newspaper carried the headline “The Wizard And The Apprentice” before the final, but as the match began, the question was which was which. Baghdatis, supported throughout the fortnight by the many Greeks in Melbourne who created a soccer-stadium atmosphere with chants, cheers and flag-waving, continued to play boldly, aggressively and on the offensive—as he had the entire tournament—while Federer struggled, particularly off the forehand side. Federer lost the first set 7-5 and saved two break points to prevent a double-service-break 0-3 deficit in the second set. After he held serve, Federer then broke the Cypriot’s serve in the next game to square the set at 2-2. After the two players exchanged service holds, a stroke of good luck benefited Federer late in the set as an overruled call on set point gave Federer the second set 7-5. The momentum immediately turned in Federer’s favor and the challenge to his supremacy ended. Federer’s 5-7, 7-5, 6-0, 6-2 victory secured him his seventh Grand Slam title—tying him with such legends as Richard Sears and William Renshaw—heroes of the 1880s—as well as John McEnroe, John Newcombe, Mats Wilander and two of four French Musketeers, Rene Lacoste and Henri Cochet.
Federer showed no exuberance as the award ceremony began, but when Rod Laver bestowed the Norman Brookes Trophy upon him, he was overcome with emotions. “I don’t know what to say,” he said at the start of his victory speech, before he fell silent. He barely managed to congratulate Baghdatis and thank his entourage and sponsors. When he mentioned Laver and that the title meant a great deal to him, his voice cracked, just like at his first Wimbledon victory, and he could no longer hold back his tears.
“I was terribly nervous,” Federer told Swiss television commentator Heinz Günthardt after he left the court. “It was an immense burden to be so clearly favored against a newcomer.” With seven Grand Slam titles, Federer began to compete not only against his contemporaries on the other side of the net, but against the ghosts of tennis history, including Pete Sampras and Rod Laver, who was standing next to him on this day.