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Federer flies - the Swiss year in tennis

Federer had plenty to celebrate this year Keystone Archive

Roger Federer's rise up the tennis rankings and Martina Hingis's fall were the main tennis talking points in 2001, but there were also Davis Cup exploits and the emergence of new talent to celebrate.

This content was published on December 26, 2001 - 22:23

Given his subsequent performances, it seems hard to believe that Federer began the year as Swiss number two behind veteran star Marc Rosset. It didn't take the youngster from Basel long to show his potential though - in February, still aged 19, Federer won the Milan Indoors tournament to clinch his first ATP singles title.

Davis Cup drama

Federer carried his impressive form into Switzerland's first round Davis Cup tie with the United States one week later. Winning both his singles matches and the doubles with Lorenzo Manta, Federer helped earn all three Swiss points to complete an emotional win in his hometown of Basel.

"It was unbelievable," Federer told swissinfo after finishing the tie off with an ace. "The whole crowd went absolutely crazy and to win like this in your home town and win three points for your team - it's just incredible."

After reaching a semi-final in Marseille and the final in Rotterdam, Federer returned to international duty in April for a second round Davis Cup tie in Neuchâtel against a formidable-looking France.

With three players ranked higher than the young Swiss star, the French team were indeed to prove too strong for Switzerland, not that Federer and co gave up their Davis Cup dream easily.

Trailing 2-0 after singles defeats for both Federer and Rosset, the home side clawed their way back with victory in the doubles and in Federer's second singles rubber.

But after what turned into one of the longest ties in Davis Cup history, George Bastl was forced to finally concede the decisive point following a five set battle with Nicolas Escude.

"It's very disappointing right now, a real nightmare," a devastated Bastl told swissinfo afterwards. "But I need time to think about the whole three days and in terms of emotion and the support of the crowd I would have to say it's been my best experience."

Despite coming so close against a French side which would eventually go on to beat Australia in the Davis Cup final, Switzerland's narrow second round defeat was to cost Swiss captain Jakob Hlasek his job. Having publicly denounced Hlasek's leadership style in the days running up to the decision, Federer proved himself to be a powerful force off the court as well as on it.

Wimbledon coup

The on-court Federer was certainly impressive at the next two Grand Slams, reaching the quarter-finals at both the French Open and Wimbledon. At the prestigious London tournament in particular the Basel teenager made international headlines by dumping American star Pete Sampras out of his favourite tournament.

Federer's fourth round win over Sampras marked the first time in five years that the seven-time Wimbledon champion had been beaten on the All England Club's hallowed grass. Once again, the Swiss number one was left struggling for words.

"Sometimes I looked across the net and I saw him and I said to myself, this is unbelievable," Federer recalled. "Playing in front of a packed house with friends and my coach watching, beating the man who's just the best on grass there is - I just couldn't believe it sometimes."

Consistency

Aside from the high points of Wimbledon and Roland Garros, the most impressive thing about Federer in 2001 was his consistency. As well as the win in Milan, the Swiss star reached 11 quarter-finals, four semi-finals and two finals - including his second successive appearance at his hometown final in Basel.

After losing in Basel to Tim Henman, the man who had also ended Federer's run at Wimbledon, the Swiss player could at least contemplate an impressive rise to 13th in the world rankings.

"My goal was to get into the top 15, maybe even the top ten," Federer told swissinfo. "But I think to get into the top ten I need to win matches like the finals here in Basel or the quarters at Wimbledon. I'm still very pleased with the way this year went, though. I found a lot of consistency despite having some injury problems later in the season from which I think I'm now coming back even stronger."

Hingis takes a tumble

While Federer will have a hard act to follow in 2001, Swiss women's number one Martina Hingis will be looking to restore her credibility after a disappointing 12 months on the WTA tour.

Failing to win a single Grand Slam title for the second year running, Hingis saw her position as world number one come under increasing scrutiny. The critics finally got their wish when an ankle injury ended Hingis's season in October, allowing the American trio of Lindsay Davenport, Jennifer Capriati and Venus Williams to climb above the Swiss star in the rankings.

Although Swiss fans will be keen to see Hingis fight back at January's Australian Open, 2001 at least suggested that the nation's long-term success is not purely dependent upon Hingis and Federer.

Second strings impress

Swiss men's number two Michel Kratochvil certainly finished the year in style, reaching four quarter-finals and two finals in his last five tournaments to become only the seventh Swiss man to break into the world's top 50.

Marie-Gaïané Mikaelian also served notice of her potential in 2001. Following an appearance in the final of the WTA tournament in Basel and a junior European championship win in Klosters, the Lausanne teenager kept up her impressive record on home soil with a stunning run to the quarter-finals of the Kloten indoor tournament.

Starting the year outside of the world's top 300, the level-headed teenager ended her amazing week in Kloten as a top 100 player, finally ending the season as the world number 74.

In July Jakob Hlasek's inability to attract the country's big names to a Fed Cup tie in Australia at least gave the young women lower down the rankings some much-needed international experience, with Myriam Casanova (WTA 346) even managing to win her singles match against Alicia Molik (WTA 47) during the otherwise one-sided 3-1 defeat.

Junior joy

While Federer made the headlines in Wimbledon, another Swiss player managed to actually win a title at the Grand Slam event - albeit in the junior category. Winning the Wimbledon boys' title on his 18th birthday, Zurich's Roman Valent found himself following in the footsteps of Federer, Hingis and Heinz Gunthardt - all former junior Wimbledon champions.

With Valent yet to embark on his ATP career, Federer's position as Swiss number one may not be under threat just yet but the level of competition and talent in the national game suggests that the Basel star will not be too complacent in the years ahead.

by Mark Ledsom

Tomorrow: Missed goals - the year in football

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