February 13, 2000: The day Roger Federer reached his first ATP Tour final in Marseille
- 13 Feb 2021
What happened exactly on that day
On this day, February 13, 2000, in Marseille, a 19-year-old Roger Federer played the first ATP final of his career. On this special occasion, he was defeated (2-6, 6-3, 7-6) by countryman Marc Rosset, the 1992 Olympic champion, who won the tournament for the third time. It would take 12 more months for Federer to claim the first of his 103 ATP titles, in Milan.
Roger Federer was born in 1981. After he finished 1998 as world No 1 in juniors, Federer performed well in his first professional matches: in his five first main tour appearances, in 1998-1999, he reached the quarter-finals three times, in Toulouse, Marseille and Rotterdam. His mind-blowing game amazed the world tennis and soon, he was announced as a potential future world No 1. At the end of 1999, after claiming a Challenger title in Brest, defeating Max Mirnyi in the final (6-4, 6-2), he was world No 64. He started his 2000 season with his first Grand Slam wins, reaching the third round at the Australian Open, defeated by Arnaud Clément (6-1, 6-4, 6-3).
Marc Rosset, from Switzerland, was born in 1970. The 6ft 7in Swiss giant was the tallest professional player of his time, hence it was no surprise that his game mostly relied on a massive serve and a very aggressive style. Rosset, who turned pro in 1988, claimed the first of his 13 titles in his hometown of Geneva, in 1989 (defeating Guillermo Perez-Roldan in the final, 6-4 7-5). In 1992, he clinched the most important title of his career, claiming the Olympic gold in Barcelona, where he defeated the world No 1 Jim Courier in the third round before beating Jordi Arrese in the final (7-6, 6-4, 3-6, 4-6, 8-6). He reached his career highest ranking as world No 9 in 1995, and his best Grand Slam result at the time was a semi-final reached at the 1996 French Open (eliminated by Michael Stich, 6-3, 6-4, 6-2). In February 2000, he was world No 77.
The Marseille Open, held every year in February, was established in 1993. It was held at the Palais des Sports, which could host 7,200 spectators. Its most remarkable former champions were Rosset, who had won the first two editions in 1993 and 1994, and Boris Becker, who had won in 1995 and was the only former world No 1 to have triumphed in Marseille.
On February 13, 2000, in Marseille, Rosset and Federer played the first all-Swiss final in the history of the ATP Tour. The two players were at very different stages of their career: Rosset, a former top 10 player and Olympic champion, was declining, while Federer, 19 years old, was one of the most promising players on the Tour. Coming from the same country, they knew each other well already and they were friends.
There was no friendship involved in their rallies though, and, after the youngster had taken the first set (6-2), the more experienced Rosset levelled the match by winning the second set (6-3). In the deciding set, Rosset was the first to break his opponent’s serve, taking a lead that should have been decisive, considering his deadly serve. However, Federer managed to save three match points at 5-4, which led the players to a deciding tiebreak. The fourth match point was the good one for Rosset: Federer netted a forehand, giving his older countryman his third title in Marseille.
“You’ll have many more opportunities to enjoy Roger, but the old man is still here!”, said the champion to the crowd during the trophy ceremony.
In 2020, Rosset would recall: “It was an important moment: first of all, it was Roger’s first final on the Tour. It was also the first 100 percent Swiss final. And then I won this final, even though it was a moment where I wasn’t necessarily at my best. I remember that at the beginning I was a little bit nervous and that I served very badly. From the baseline he was much stronger than me, so it was complicated. We knew each other well and of course I already knew at the time that he would win many more! For me it was one of the last ones.”
Twenty years later, despite his amazing achievements inbetween, this first ATP final would remain special to Federer. “It was very hard for me to lose this final against Marc. Facing him didn’t bother me too much because I already knew that when you enter the court, you shouldn’t think about your opponent. But I remember that I was very close and that on the match point, in the tiebreak of the third set, I hit the net band. I felt really unlucky and I was very disappointed. For me it was quite dramatic. I was in tears and Marc told me not to worry, that I would win some more.”
Marc Rosset was right: it was indeed one of his last titles, while Federer was going to win as many as 103 titles, the first one in Milan, in 2001.
The giant Swiss would claim his last title the same year, on grass, at the London Axa Cup, defeating Yevgeny Kafelnikov in the final (6-4, 6-4). After five years of struggle, he would retire from the game in October 2005.