October 29, 2006: Federer’s first Basel title
- 29 Oct 2020
On this day, October 29, 2006, world No 1 Roger Federer defeated Fernando Gonzalez (6-3, 6-2, 7-6(3)) to win his hometown tournament at Basel for the first time. This victory meant a lot to the Swiss, who had been a ball boy there in 1993, and had finished runner-up twice already in front of his home crowd back in 2000 and 2001. It was Federer’s 44th career title, and his 11th in 2006, which is one of his best years on the tour.
The players involved
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 first five main tour appearances in 1998 and 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 tipped as a future world No 1 candidate.
The Swiss, who was very emotional during his first years on the tour, eventually mastered his nerves in 2003, when he claimed his first major title at Wimbledon by defeating Mark Philippoussis in the final, 7-6, 6-2, 7-6. A few months later, after triumphing at the Australian Open (defeating Marat Safin in the final, 7-6, 6-4, 6-3), he became world No 1 on February 2, 2004, and he held on that spot tightly since then. Since 2003, he had won nine Grand Slams : the Australian Open (2004, 2006), Wimbledon (2003, 2004, 2005, 2006) and the US Open (2004, 2005, 2006). Since he reached the No 1 spot, he also collected 24 ATP titles, including 11 Masters 1000 tournaments. Federer had already won the Masters Cup in 2003 and 2004.
In 2006, his best year so far , he had already claimed ten titles including three Grand Slams, and four Masters Series. He only suffered 5 losses, four of these against his only serious rival at the time, Rafael Nadal. The Spaniard was the main reason Federer hadn’t won the French Open yet: he lost against him in the semi-final in 2005 (6-3, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3) and in the final in 2006 (1-6, 6-1, 6-4, 7-6).
Fernando Gonzalez was born in 1980. He turned pro in 1999 and achieved his first notable result in 2000 when he claimed his first ATP title as a 352th-ranked qualifier in Orlando (defeating Nicolas Massu in the final, 6-2, 6-3). His game mostly relied on a powerful forehand. Despite his success in Orlando, he wasn’t consistent at the top level until 2002. He clinched two more ATP crowns in Vina del Mar (defeating Nicolas Lapenttii in the final, 6-3, 6-7, 7-6) and Palermo (beating Jose Acasuso, 5-7, 6-3, 6-1). He also reached the quarter-finals at the US Open, where he was edged out by Sjeng Schalken (6-7, 6-3, 6-3, 6-7, 7-6). In the following years, he remained a solid top-25 player, reaching the quarter-finals at Roland-Garros in 2003 (defeated by Juan Carlos Ferrero, 6-1, 3-6, 6-1, 5-7, 6-4) and Wimbledon in 2004 (lost to Roger Federer, 7-5, 6-2, 7-6). He accumulated a total of seven career titles, the most important one in Basel in 2005, where he defeated Marcos Baghdatis in the final (6-7, 6-3, 7-5, 6-4). In 2006, reaching the semi-finals in three Masters 1000 events (Monte-Carlo, Toronto and Cincinnati) propelled him into the top 10 for the first time in his career.
The Swiss Indoors Open, established in 1970, became a prestigious event in 1977 when it became a part of the Grand Prix Circuit. That year, the champion was the great Bjorn Borg himself. In the 1980s, the prize money increased almost every year, attracting the best players in the world. The tournament was won by stars like Ivan Lendl (1980, 1981), Yannick Noah (1982, 1987), and Stefan Edberg (1985, 1986, 1988). In the 1990s, the Swiss Indoors became a part of the ATP World Series, and remained one of the most prestigious indoor tournaments in the world, won by great players like Boris Becker (1992), Michael Stich (1993) and Pete Sampras (1996).
The event took place at the St. Jakobshalle, an indoor venue with a capacity of 9,000 spectators.
In October 2006, despite all his amazing feats, two important titles were still missing from Roger Federer’s list of achievements : Roland-Garros, and the Swiss Indoors in Basel.
The Swiss genius grew up in Basel, and in 1993, he was a ball boy at the Open.
“I loved being a ball boy here,” Federer told Tennis TV. “I was able to see the best players in the world firsthand and see how they would prepare, how they would sweat, how they dealt with the pressure. They’re good moments for me.”
Therefore, this tournament meant a lot to him, and this is also why he felt disheartened after losing two finals there, in 2000 and 2001. In 2001, defeated by Tim Henman (6-3, 6-4, 6-2), Federer thought he had missed his chance.
“I was never going to win, period. That was it. Because I thought I had two chances, I wasted both opportunities… You don’t get many more opportunities,” Federer said to atptour.com in 2018.
Nevertheless, on October 29, 2006, Federer, who was now the undisputed world No 1 for almost three years, had a third opportunity to claim the title in his hometown. In order to get into the final, the maestro survived a major scare in the semi-finals , prevailing only 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 against Paradorn Srichaphan. In the final, he faced world No 7, Fernando Gonzalez, whom he had just beaten in the final of the Madrid Masters 1000 (7-5, 6-1, 6-0).
Although the Chilean was in great shape, Federer had his number, leading 8-0 in their head-to-head. After claiming ten titles in 2006 already, the Swiss was full of confidence, and he didn’t let Gonzalez a chance, hitting 14 aces and losing only 17 points in 15 service games. After one hour and fifty-nine minutes of play, Federer eventually triumphed in front of his home crowd by the score of 6-3, 6-2, 7-6(3).
The world No 1 didn’t forget his past as a ball boy at the Swiss Indoors, and he began his own tradition: post-final pizza parties with the ball boys.
“I had to wait for it,” Federer said in 2018. “It was hard for me. Then in 2006, finally, it all worked out, I got my first Basel and then everything changed forever. I knew I could do this result again. And I was able to defend and to handle pressure and all the expectations that surrounds this tournament for me. It’s been a wonderful tournament for me, especially doing it from being a ball boy here for two years, it’s a great feeling.”
Federer was right when he said that he could “do this result again”. He would be victorious 10 times in his hometown : 2006-2008, 2010, 2011, 2014, 2015, 2017-2019.
Fernando Gonzalez would obtain his most memorable result at the 2007 Australian Open, where he would reach the final, defeated by none other than Federer (7-6, 6-4, 6-4). This performance would propel him to his best career ranking, world No 5.
In total, both players would face each other 13 times before Gonzalez’retirement, in 2012. Only once would the Chilean prevail against Federer, in the round robin of the 2007 Masters Cup (3-6, 7-6, 7-5).
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