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Helvetia rules the waves

Bertarelli hoists the Auld Mug Keystone Archive

As sporting years go, they don’t come much better than 2003.

This content was published on December 23, 2003 - 17:50

Landlocked Switzerland sailed away with the America’s Cup, while Roger Federer came of age to win tennis’s greatest prize on the grass courts of Wimbledon.

Switzerland’s bid to become the first European challenger to win the 152-year-old America’s Cup was already underway off the New Zealand coast as supporters back home saw in the New Year.

Bankrolled by biotech billionaire Ernesto Bertarelli, Team Alinghi cruised through the qualifying competition, losing only one race before facing Team New Zealand in the final.

Raced off the Auckland coast, the best-of-nine series saw Alinghi whitewash the cup holders 5-0. The Swiss team, controversially skippered by a New Zealander, Russell Coutts, lifted the “Auld Mug” on March 1.

“In 152 years, no single challenger has brought the cup back to Europe, and it's Switzerland which has rewritten the history books. It's extraordinary,” said Bertarelli, who had always compared the challenge of the America’s Cup to scaling the Matterhorn.

Alinghi announced last month that the Spanish city of Valencia would stage its defence of the trophy in 2007.

In a further demonstration of Swiss sailing prowess, a former lumberjack from western Switzerland won the Around Alone yachting race.

Bernard Stamm’s seven-month odyssey saw him travel 28,775 miles across the world’s oceans in a boat he had built himself.

Federer’s year

Back in February, while Alinghi was engaged off the Auckland coast, Roger Federer was quietly winning in the French port of Marseille.

Blessed with more natural ability than anyone else on the grand prix circuit, Federer had often fallen foul of commentators for not fulfilling his potential. But in 2003 the 22-year-old from Basel answered his critics.

With further wins in Dubai, Munich and Halle under his belt, Federer went into this year’s Wimbledon Championships as one of the favourites - and he didn’t disappoint.

His semi-final demolition of world number one, Andy Roddick, was hailed as one of the year’s great performances.

His 7-6, 6-2, 7-6 win against Australia’s Mark Philippoussis in the final was equally emphatic.

Masterclass

Federer ended the season in style, winning the Masters Cup - and prize money of $1.5 million (SFr1.9 million) - with victories over the other reigning grand slam champions: Agassi (Australian Open), Roddick (US Open) and Juan Carlos Ferrero (French Open).

“Seven titles on four different surfaces, my first grand slam, number two in the world… it’s really been an unbelievable year for me,” said Federer after winning the tournament.

Federer’s tournament victories speak for themselves, but equally revealing is the high regard in which his peers hold the modest Swiss.

“The guy has more natural flair and talent for the game than anybody,” said Roddick, who finished the season one place ahead of Federer in the rankings.

It came as a surprise when Federer, who also led Switzerland to the Davis Cup semi-finals, announced in December that he was splitting from his coach Peter Lundgren.

Former women’s world number one Martina Hingis has effectively ruled out a comeback, after being sidelined by a long-term foot injury.

Hingis told swissinfo in July that it would take a “medical miracle” to get her playing top-class tennis again.

Euro 2004

There was further evidence of an upturn in the country’s footballing fortunes, with the national side progressing through to next year’s European Championships in Portugal.

A win against the Republic of Ireland in their final qualifying group game in October took Switzerland through to the tournament finals for only the second time in their history.

The Swiss, who will co-host the championships with Austria in 2008, face a tough test, having been drawn against defending champions France, plus England and Croatia.

The country’s under-21 side also qualified for their own European Championships.

Progress at national level was mirrored by FC Basel, who made it through to the second group stage of Europe’s premier club competition, the Champions League.

Unexpected wins over Liverpool and Glasgow Celtic the previous year, saw FC Basel take on the continent’s best: Manchester United, Juventus and Spain’s Deportivo La Coruña.

Coach Christian Gross’s side managed a respectable two wins and a draw against their more illustrious opponents.

Basel carried last season’s impressive form into the new Swiss “Super League” and they reached December’s mid-season break 16 points clear at the top of the table, following an 18-match unbeaten run.

Medal haul

The Alpine World Ski Championships came to St Moritz in February and, while there were no golds, the Swiss were satisfied with a medal haul of four.

Corinne Rey-Bellet grabbed silver in the women’s downhill and Silvan Zurbriggen repeated the feat in the men’s slalom.

Skiing star Michael von Grünigen bowed out at the end of the season after 15 years at the top. The 34-year-old notched up 23 World Cup wins in the giant slalom discipline over his career.

The year ended on a bleak note, though, as the men failed to finish on the podium in any of the pre-Christmas World Cup races - the worst start to a season since 1975.

The World Orienteering Championships found their way to Rapperswil in northern Switzerland in August. The Swiss picked up five gold medals - four of them going to Simone Luder.

Elsewhere judoka Sergei Aschwanden won silver in the 81kg category at the World Judo Championships in Osaka, Japan.

André Bucher failed defend his 800m crown at this summer’s World Athletics Championships in Paris.

And while there were lean pickings for the Formula One team, Sauber, the nation found a rising star in 16-year-old Thomas Lüthi, who stunned the world of motor sport by finishing second at the 125cc motorcycle grand prix in Barcelona.

swissinfo, Adam Beaumont

In brief

Highlights of 2003:

March: Team Alinghi wins the America's Cup, bringing the trophy to Europe for the first time in 152 years.

May: Bernard Stamm wins the Around Alone yachting race, after seven months and 28,775 miles at sea.

July: Roger Federer wins Wimbledon - his first grand slam title.

August: Simone Luder wins four gold medals at the World Orienteering Championships in Rapperswil, Switzerland.

October: Switzerland qualify for the 2004 European football championships in Portugal.

November: Federer wins the end-of-season Masters Cup in Houston, Texas.

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