April 6, 2001: The Day Arnaud Clément defeated Marc Rosset in a Davis Cup Marathon

Each day, Tennis Majors takes you back in time to an important moment in the sport’s history. On this day — April 6 — in 2001, Arnaud Clément defeated Marc Rosset in a Davis Cup epic that lasted almost six hours.

Arnaud Clément, On this day

What happened exactly on that day 

On this day, April 6, 2001, in the opening match of the Davis Cup first-round tie between Switzerland and France, Arnaud Clément defeated Marc Rosset in one of the longest matches in the tournament’s history since the introduction of the tiebreak in 1989 (6-3, 3-6, 7-6, 6-7, 15-13 after five hours and 45 minutes of play). Rosset fired 48 aces and saved eight match points but couldn’t avoid defeat against the Australian Open runner-up. 

The players

Arnaud Clément, born in 1977, turned pro in 1996. He entered the top 100 in 1998, and he made himself known to the general public in 1999, when he pushed future champion Andre Agassi into a fifth set in the second round of the French Open. In 2000, after reaching the semi-finals in August at the Cincinnati Masters 1000 (lost to Thomas Enqvist, 6-2, 6-2), he defeated Agassi, then world No 1, in the second round of the US Open (6-3, 6-2, 6-4), where he went as far as the quarter-finals (lost to Lleyton Hewitt 6-4, 6-2, 6-3). 

In November, Clement claimed his first ATP title in Lyon, defeating Patrick Rafter in the final (7-6, 7-6), two months before finishing runner-up at the 2001 Australian Open to general astonishment. To qualify for the final, he defeated his long-time friend Sébastien Grosjean in the semi-finals, after he came back from two sets down and saved two match points (5-7, 2-6, 7-6, 7-5, 6-2). In the last round, however, he was swept off the court by Agassi, who avenged his New York loss 6-4, 6-2, 6-2. In April the same year, he obtained his highest ranking as world No 10.

Nicolas Escudé

Marc Rosset, from Switzerland, was born in 1970. The 6’7” Swiss 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 game style. Rosset, who turned pro in 1988, claimed the first of his 15 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 round of 16 before beating Jordi Arrese in the final (7-6, 6-4, 3-6, 4-6, 8-6). 

Rosset 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). He finished the 2000 season as world No 28 after having notably won the AXA Cup in London (defeating Yevgeny Kafelnikov in the final, 6-4, 6-4), but he didn’t play well in the first months of 2001. By April, his ranking had already dropped down to world No 62.

The place

The 2001 Davis Cup first-round tie between Switzerland and France was held on indoor hard courts in Neuchâtel, not far from Roger Federer’s hometown of Basel. 

The facts

On April 6, 2001, the opening rubber of the Davis Cup first-round tie against Switzerland and France saw two players at very different stages of their careers facing each other. The 23-year-old Frenchman, Arnaud Clément, was at the peak of his form. A few months before, he had claimed his first ATP title, and in January, he had made an amazing run into the Australian Open final. As a consequence, he now held the highest ranking of his career as world No 10.

On the other hand, 30-year-old Marc Rosset, the 1992 Olympic champion, hadn’t won two consecutive matches since the start of the season, and when he arrived in Neuchâtel, he had lost in the first round of the last three tournaments he had attended. He was now world No 62, after having been a part of the top 50 without an interruption from 1992 to 2000. However, his captain, Jakob Hlasek, chose him over George Bastl to play the opening match against Clément, despite the fact that he had lost against him in Rotterdam, hoping that the Swiss giant would rise to the occasion.

Rosset started slowly, and Clément made an early break, taking the first set, 6-3, but in the second set, the Swiss sharpened his serve and leveled the game (6-3). The third and fourth set went into a tiebreak, with each player taking one to set a deciding fifth set. 

In a dramatic twist, Rosset managed to claw his way back from 4-0 down and turn the fifth set into a marathon. 4-4, 5-5, 6-6…At 9-9, Clément missed his first match points. At 11-11, the Frenchman made three double faults, allowing Rosset to serve for the match, but his serve failed him at the most important moment. At 14-13, the Swiss heroically saved two more match points, but after five hours and 46 minutes of play, Clément finally prevailed 6-3, 3-6, 7-6, 6-7, 15-13. 

The Swiss, who had fired 48 aces, could regret the high number of double-faults he made (between 19 and 30, depending on various sources). Extremely disappointed, he didn’t want to reflect on his performance and, just after the match, simply said that he wanted to “throw himself in the lake.” The high level of tennis displayed was still not satisfying enough for Rosset.

“But I lost…again,” he said. “I can’t be satisfied with defeat, even if they tell me I played well. And besides, if I had really played well, I would have won.”

French Davis Cup Team

What next

Later that day, Nicolas Escudé would give France a 2-0 lead by defeating 19-year-old Roger Federer, whose antagonism with Jakob Hlasek peaked on that day and delivered a poor performance (6-4, 6-7, 6-3, 6-4). However, the Swiss team would then win the doubles, and on the last day Federer would defeat Clément 6-4, 3-6, 7-6, 6-4. In the deciding match, Escudé would win another marathon to edge George Bastl 1-6, 7-5, 6-7, 6-4, 8-6.

This close victory was the first step of a victorious campaign for the French team: in December, the same Escudé defeated Lleyton Hewitt and Wayne Arthurs on grass in Australia to lead France to its first Davis Cup triumph in five years. 

Arnaud Clément would not remain very long in the top 10. However, he would remain a solid top 50 player. In 2004, he would play the longest match in Roland-Garros history, a six-hour and 33-minute marathon lost against Fabrice Santoro (6-4, 6-3, 6-7, 3-6, 16-14).

Marc Rosset would never reach the final of an ATP tournament again. He would leave the top 100 at the end of 2001 and — after five years of struggle — he would retire from the game in October 2005.

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