Curse of Basel

Roger Federer: Setting Records Around The World

Tennis fans have been very amused at the new NetJets television advertisement featured Roger Federer pulled a luggage rack full of all of his Grand Slam tournament trophies to his private jet. Federer indeed leads a jet-set lifestyle that really began to take shape in 2004 – the first year that he won the US Open. The following chapter from the Federer biography THE ROGER FEDERER STORY: QUEST FOR PERFECTION by Rene Stauffer ($24.95, New Chapter Press, www.RogerFedererBook.com) – entitled “Setting Records Around The World” – documents a bit of the high-life of Federer and the tail end of his 2004 season.

Following his triumph at the US Open, Roger Federer and his girlfriend Mirka Vavrinec experienced four very exciting and diverse weeks. Arthur Cohn, an Academy Award-winning producer and, like Federer, a native of Basel, invited his friend to celebrate his US Open victory with him in Los Angeles. Roger and Mirka got their first introduction to Hollywood’s glamorous world. They took up residence in a luxury suite in Beverly Hills, went shopping on Rodeo Drive, visited attractions such as the Walk of Fame and met film greats such as Kirk Douglas and Danny de Vito. In between it all, Federer treated his body to hours of relaxation in the spa. Another highlight of this trip was an excur­sion in a private jet to Las Vegas to take in magician David Copperfield’s show at the Hotel Bellagio. Following the show, Federer met with Copperfield—a meeting of two magicians, one could say.

The jet-set life continued smoothly. Federer then jetted across the Pacific Ocean and the International Date Line and made a stop-over in Hong Kong, where he conducted a media day for the Asian press. The next stop was Bangkok and the Thailand Open. Traveling in a minivan from the tour­nament facilities to his hotel through the humid, rain-soaked metropolis, Federer explained that he enjoyed moving about in the world of the beautiful, the rich and the famous. “I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t want to,” he said. “I find getting to know show business exciting. I used to have trouble with the world of red carpets and formal dinners but now I’m having fun. It’s also not difficult for me to talk to other people. There’s always something to say.”

He particularly enjoyed Asia’s hospitality and the enthusiasm of the peo­ple—he was also enamored with Asian cuisine. In contrast to the other players at the event, Federer stayed at the Oriental Hotel on the Chao Phraya River, a traditional, colonial-styled structure and the best hotel in the city. Federer, in the meantime, made the conscious decision to avoid the official tournament hotels. He noticed that he could settle down quicker and relax better when he stayed away from the tournament crowd. Hotel rooms were havens where he could recuperate and escape—and he was willing to pay extra dollar for this extra luxury, but as the king of the tennis world, he was still often offered special rates to stay in the best suites in the best hotels. In Paris, it may have been the noble Hotel du Crillon, or the seven star Burj al Arab in Dubai, or the Peninsula in New York.

Federer’s trip to Bangkok ended in success—he won the Thailand Open with a 6-4, 6-0 win over Andy Roddick in a sold-out final in front of 10,000-plus spectators. It was his 12th consecutive victory in a tournament final, tying the all-time record set by Björn Borg and John McEnroe. He received the “Trophy of the King” at the award ceremony from Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya and expressed his gratitude in the country’s customary way, mak­ing a slight bow with hands folded over his chest. “I was surprised at how attractive the Princess was. She looked 35,” he said later after a long walk through many hallways accompanied by five bodyguards while retiring to his plain and windowless single dressing room. “She’s supposed to be 55!”

His “jet-set” world tour was now in its sixth week but he did not return di­rectly home after Bangkok. For the third time during the 2004 calendar year, Federer went to Dubai. What nobody knew was that the Australian coach Tony Roche was also in Dubai, on assignment to spend a few days of training with Federer in the initial stages of what later became their fascinating player-coach relationship.

By early October, Federer already won ten titles in the 2004 season. His match record stood at 69-6 and there were still four tournaments remaining on his schedule. Two more important ATP records were within reach—most victories in a season (86) and most tournament titles in a season (12), both set in 1995 by the left-handed Austrian clay courter Thomas Muster. But then, the unexpected happened. Federer withdrew from the event in Madrid because he didn’t feel sufficiently rested after his world tour. He preferred to concentrate his energies on winning the event that was as high on his wish-list as the French Open—the Swiss Indoors. At the tournament’s Monday opening presentation in Basel’s town hall, Federer was in a fine mood, upbeat and told all the assembled media how well prepared he was for the week. However, just a few hours later, he was overtaken during a practice session by what must have been the curse of Basel—he suddenly felt an unusual pain in his left thigh. The pain persisted during his practice session on Tuesday. He hastily underwent a magnetic resonance imaging examination, which re­vealed a muscle fiber rupture—an injury common for tennis players.

Instead of his long-desired triumph in his hometown, the Swiss Indoors brought him some of the bitterest hours of his career. He showed up at the St. Jakobshalle Tuesday evening—when he was scheduled to make his tourna­ment start—wearing street clothes. He withdrew from the tournament and explained to the media and the public what happened. “I never imagined that it would turn out like this,” he said. “I had made perfect preparations and had a good chance at winning the tournament.”

Federer recovered just in time to travel to Houston in his attempt to de­fend his title at the Tennis Masters Cup. However, the second year at the Westside Tennis Club was completely different than the previous year. Jim McIngvale—“Mattress Mack”—took last year’s criticisms by Federer and his fellow players to heart and significantly improved the conditions of the tour­nament. Each of the eight participants now had their own dressing room. The differences between Federer and McIngvale were resolved and the tourna­ment promoter and his wife warmly welcomed the world’s No. 1 player and congratulated him graciously for his impressive 2004 season. Federer finally felt welcome and appreciated in Texas. McIngvale even facilitated for Federer a lunch with former American President George Bush Sr., a self-confessed tennis fan, and his wife Barbara, both residents of Houston. However, there was something that McIngvale could not facilitate with his influence and his deep pocketbook—good weather. Most of the week featured rainy and windy weather, spreading gloom among fans, players and officials and causing long and persistent match delays.

At least Federer was fully recovered from his thigh injury. Six weeks went by since his last tournament competition in Bangkok, but surprisingly, he had little trouble immediately finding his rhythm. Federer negotiated round-robin wins over Gaston Gaudio, Lleyton Hewitt and Carlos Moya to reach the semifinals, where he faced Marat Safin, who was now tutored by Federer’s old coach Peter Lundgren.

The Federer-Safin semifinal was highlighted by the second-set tie-break that lasted 27 minutes and ended 20-18 in Federer’s favor. The 38 points matched the record for the longest tie-break in tennis history—equaling the amount of points Björn Borg and Premjit Lall played at Wimbledon in 1973 and that Goran Ivanisevic and Daniel Nestor played at the 1993 US Open. “Too bad we didn’t break the record,” Federer joked. “We should have made an arrangement to do this.” Federer was in a good mood because even though he blew seven match points, he also fought off six set points and won the match 6-3, 7-6 (18). Interestingly enough, television replays showed that Federer actually won the match on his third match point when leading 10-9, when the TV replay showed Federer was the victim of a bad line call. “I even saw the mark Safin’s shot made and it was out,” he stated. Almost any other player would have frantically protested such an injustice, especially at such a critical point in the match. Federer, however, reacted as if nothing had hap­pened, even though he would have won the match on Safin’s mistake. He remained entrenched in the dog fight and said he intentionally convinced himself that Safin’s stroke probably landed in. “I would have gone nuts oth­erwise,” he said.

In the other semifinal, Roddick’s game buckled against Hewitt as the American lost the last 20 points of the match, losing 6-3, 6-2. Some cynics actually offered that Roddick may have welcomed defeat to avoid a fourth final-round loss to Federer for the year. Instead, it was now Federer against Hewitt for the sixth time on the season, and for the sixth time, Federer emerged the winner. The 6-3, 6-2 win gave Federer his 13th consecutive vic­tory in a tournament final, breaking the record he previously shared with McEnroe and Borg for most consecutive victories in tournament finals.

As Federer toasted with Champagne in the player’s lounge after his post-match interview with the press, he seemed like anybody who had just ended a normal work week. But on this day, a dream year came to a close. Federer won 11 titles, three Grand Slam tournaments as well as the Tennis Masters Cup. His won-loss record for the year stood at 74-6, marking the best winning per­centage since John McEnroe went 82-3 in 1984. His reward was lavish. Just in this week—like the year before in Houston—he set a personal record in prize money winning $1.52 million and raised his season earnings to $6,357,547.

Since his devastating loss to Berdych at the Olympic Games, Federer went undefeated for the remainder of the year. He was now the champion of four Grand Slam tournaments and finished the year as the No. 1 player in the world. Federer still had one more wish before he and Mirka jetted off to the Maldive Islands for some rest and relaxation—“I would like to make time stand still and just enjoy this moment.” But nobody, of course, could fulfill this wish.

Roger Federer Suffers Loss At The Masters Cup

Roger Federer suffered only his third career loss at the Tennis Masters Cup Monday, losing to Chile’s Fernando Gonzalez 4-6, 7-6 (1), 7-5 in the opening round robin match in Shanghai. Federer’s last loss at the year-end championships came in the 2005 championship match to his nemesis David Nalbandian of Argentina. In the book THE ROGER FEDERER STORY, QUEST FOR PERFECTION(www.rogerfedererbook.com , New Chapter Press, $24.95), author Rene Stauffer details Federer’s loss to Nalbandian in the Masters Cup and the circumstances surrounding his last loss in the year-end championships. The excerpt is below.

In October 11, Federer was in Allschwil, Switzerland training with coun­tryman Michael Lammer, when he was once again struck by the “Curse of Basel.” At the same facility where he suffered a muscle tear the previous year, Federer injured his right ankle. He felt a searing pain and fell to the court and could not get back up. “At first I thought I had broken something,” he explained. The diagnosis was not that bad, but it was bad enough. Federer tore ligaments in his ankle and while surgery was not required, it forced him to withdraw from the events in Madrid, Basel and Paris. It was debatable if there was enough time for him to recover to play in the year-end Tennis Masters Cup in Shanghai in a month’s time.

Federer’s foot was in a cast and he was on crutches for two weeks. He did everything he could to accelerate the therapy to enable him to play in Shanghai. He underwent ultrasound, lymph drainage, massages, elevated the legs, special exercises—everything. To his benefit, he was not the only top player who was injured as the top 10 rankings at the time read more like a list of casualties. Three former Grand Slam tournament champions withdrew from Shanghai—Marat Safin was out with a bad left knee and Andy Roddick withdrew with a bad back. Lleyton Hewitt chose not to compete in Shanghai so he could spend time with his new wife, Bec Cartwright, who was expecting the couple’s first child.

A fourth former Grand Slam tournament winner, Andre Agassi, arrived in China still gimpy after injuring ligaments in his left ankle around the same time as Federer’s injury. After losing in his first round-robin match to Nikolay Davydenko 6-4, 6-2, Agassi also withdrew from the event. Since he won the tournament in Madrid in October, Nadal was troubled with a left-foot injury that caused him to withdraw from the events in Basel and Paris. Although he was in China with the expectation of competing, he also withdrew from the tournament just before his first scheduled match. Within a matter of hours, the tournament lost two of its most popular draws—Agassi and Nadal—and Federer’s start was still doubtful as well.

The two-time defending champion arrived in Shanghai early to prepare, but he still didn’t know until two days before the event began whether he would compete at all. The typhoon-proof stadium in Shanghai was nearly sold out—but for the ambitious Chinese organizers—the situation was far worse than a typhoon. After a highly successful staging of the 2002 Tennis Masters Cup in Shanghai, Chinese officials were able to lure the event back to their country for three years starting in 2005. During the two-year stint of the tournament in Houston, the Chinese built the magnificent Qi Zhong Stadium that seats 15,000 spectators in the Minhang district in southwestern Shanghai. The fa­cility features a retractable roof that is shaped like a blooming magnolia—the city’s emblem. It is an eight-ton structure with eight retractable pieces that open and close. Since eight is Federer’s favorite number—because his birthday is on the eighth day of the eighth month—it made for a special connection between him and the tournament. Shanghai was also special for Federer since it was the site of his Tennis Masters Cup debut in 2002—and the memories were still fond. He even made an extra trip to take part of the official opening in the stadium in early October.

Federer’s injury was definitely the most serious of his career to date. While he was healthy enough to play in the tournament, his expectations were low. He did not properly prepare for the event and did not rule out the possibility of losing all three of his round-robin matches. In his opening match, Federer surprised himself when he was able to de­feat David Nalbandian 6-3, 2-6, 6-4. He described the victory as one of the finest wins of his career, which gave some indication how ill-prepared for the tournament he actually felt.

Federer’s next match with Ivan Ljubicic became a high-point of the tour­nament. Ljubicic was regarded as a threat to win the title after posting the best indoor record of any player during the year. After Federer gave fans—and organizers—a scare when he called for a trainer to treat him on court before the third set, he saved three match points before prevailing in a 7-4 final-set tie-break. The win clinched Federer’s spot in the semifinals as the winner of his group.

In the semifinals, Federer registered an incredible 6-0, 6-0 thrashing of Gaston Gaudio of Argentina that not only moved him into the Tennis Masters Cup final for a third straight year, but gave him an 81-3 record for the year. He was within one match victory of tying John McEnroe’s record for the best won-loss record in the history of men’s tennis. In 1984, McEnroe won both the US Open and Wimbledon and achieved a record of 82-3. Nalbandian, whom Federer defeated in his opening round-robin match, was the only barrier that stood in his way of tying this important record.

However, unlike round-robin play, the final was a best-of-five set affair, making the achievement that much more difficult for the out-of-match-practice Federer. Tie-breaks decided the first two sets, with Federer winning a first-set tie-break 7-4 and a second-set tie-break 13-11. With two hours of arduous tennis needed to take the two-sets-to-love lead, Federer began to look weary in the early stages of the third set. Nalbandian took advantage and crawled back into the match. During a stretch in the fourth and fifth sets, Federer lost 10 straight games to trail 0-4 in the fifth set. At 0-30 in the fifth game of the final set, Federer, perhaps motivated by chants of “Roger! Roger!” as well as by his own will and pride, began to rally back into the match. Forty-five minutes later, he was just two points from victory serving for the match at 6-5, 30-0. Nalbandian, however, turned the tide again. Federer would later say, “I wasn’t playing to win any longer but just to make it as hard as possible for him.”

After breaking Federer back to force the final-set tie-break, Nalbandian rallied to win the match 6-7 (4), 6-7(11), 6-2, 6-1, 7-6 (3). Federer watched Nalbandian sink to the ground after the greatest victory of his career and as the first Argentinean Masters champion in 31 years.

“I came closer to winning the tournament than I had thought,” said Federer. “Under these circumstances, this was one of the best performances of my career. This tour­nament was probably the most emotional one for me this year.”

Whether satisfied with his effort or not, the loss, nonetheless, meant the end of several of Federer’s streaks. It was his first defeat since the semifinals of the French Open in early June—a streak of 35 matches and the fifth-longest match winning streak in ATP history. (Nalbandian’s countryman Guillermo Vilas is the record-holder with 46 straight victories). The loss also marked his first defeat in a tournament final since July of 2003—a streak of 24 straight final-round matches. Although he only lost four matches, he ranked his 2005 season worse than 2004, since two of his four defeats happened at Grand Slam tournaments. “But this season was unbelievable as well,” he said. “At some stages, I felt invincible.”

Thanks to the star power of Federer, the Tennis Masters Cup was not a complete disaster for the Chinese promoters. The fledgling tennis movement in Asia continued. A few months later, the ATP renewed its contract for Shanghai to assume organization for the Masters through 2008. “If the tour­nament had been damaged by the many forfeits, then it was compensated for by one of the most exciting matches of the year,” the Shanghai Daily wrote the day after the epic Federer-Nalbandian final. John McEnroe was also satisfied. “It was nice to see how hard Federer fought to break my record,” McEnroe said. “Perhaps people will now realize that it’s not so easy to achieve a record of 82-3.”