Roger Federer, the living legend of tennis, announced his retirement and decided to put an end to a career full of successes that saw him become one of the best in history with 103 titles, 20 Grand Slams, 310 weeks at the top of the world ranking and 1,251 victories.
Owner of a history of unforgettable celebrations, exciting consecrations and records, which had its first successful chapter more than 20 years ago, on February 4, 2001, on a carpet court in Milan and indoors. In that Italian city, the Swiss won his first ATP title with a victory against the French Julien Boutter in three sets.
“I waited a lot for this moment. It should be easier from now on,” said a 19-year-old Roger. And yes it was. Not even he imagined everything he was going to achieve in the next two decades.
With his long hair tied in a ponytail, a white headband and a red shirt -in the tone of his country’s flag-, the Swiss, number 27 in the world at that time, was the ranking favorite for the final. But Boutter, 26 years old and 67th in the world rankings, felt lucky and entered the court confident that he would end up lifting the trophy. But he found himself with a rival who, thirsty for glory, did not want to miss his third opportunity to claim champion for the first time.
“I didn’t get to the final thinking I was going to win it, but I wanted my first title. I felt the pressure. It had been a great week for me, I felt like I was playing very well, but it was an indoor tournament and Boutter was a great server. , so there was no way of knowing what was going to happen”, recalled Federer in a chat with the ATP.
The Swiss, a professional since 1998, had played the decisive instance of a tournament for the first time the previous year, in Marseille, where he lost in the tie break of the third set against his compatriot Marc Rossett.
That same season he lost his second final against his people, in Basel, where he fell in a very tough match against the Swedish Thomas Enqvist, then number six in the world, in five sets. A long time later he confessed that after that match, he thought: “I’m never going to win a tournament.”
Less than four months later, he got it. Although not without suffering. On his way to the final he defeated the German Rainer Schuettler (48°); into french Cyril Saulnier (120°), Croatian Goran Ivanisević (123°) and Russian Yevgeny Kafelnikovseventh in the ranking.
In the deciding duel, Boutter broke first in the opening set and young Roger let out his frustration by crashing his racket to the ground. Yes, in his first years as a professional, the Swiss was not yet the “gentleman” he is today on the court and he used to let himself be won over by his emotions.
Beyond the anger, he reacted and managed to take the part. His rival took second in the tie break. And at the start of the third, the umpire made a mistake that could have been decisive in the game. Federer should have served in the first game, but the judge got confused and ordered the Frenchman to start serving. The Swiss broke in that opening game and took an advantage that led to victory. What would have happened if the Swiss served first? There is no way of knowing, but the story could well have been another.
“It could have been the end of me,” Boutter considered a few years ago. And he recalled: “Federer was already considered the future Pete Sampras at that time, but when we played that game, he still had a lot of growing up to do and he looked pretty nervous on the court.”
“I think I am improving and I have achieved the first goal in my career. My next goal is to enter the top 15 in the world, which is a difficult goal, but not impossible,” Federer said after that final. “Losing three finals in a row might have been a little uncomfortable mentally. But now I can look forward to the rest of the season with a little less pressure on my shoulders of having to win a title,” he added.
“As soon as the game was over, I was more relieved than happy.“, he recalled a few years ago. “After I started to feel happy for that title, I played quite well. It was a great moment for me. I thought ‘At least I have one!’“.
What came next exceeded all expectations.. His second title made him want another year – he got it in Sydney, at the beginning of 2002, a season in which he also added the third and fourth -; but from 2003 he began to build an unrivaled dominance in professional tennis.
In 2004 he conquered seven crowns, including the first in a “big” at Wimbledon, a contest he won eight times, more than any other player in history. And he didn’t stop anymore. He got tired of lifting trophies, celebrating victories, breaking records and delighting tennis fans with his talent and his exquisite tennis.
This Thursday, at the age of 41, the legend announced his final goodbye in the sport that saw him as one of the best in history. Next weekend, when he contests the Laver Cup, will be Federer’s last time on court.