Flashback: At Long Last, Federer Prevails At Home In Gstaad
Roger Federer’s 10 titles in Basel make it clear that he thrives at home, but that wasn’t always the case. When he arrived at the 2004 Swiss Open Gstaad, Federer had yet to stand in the winner’s circle in Switzerland.
The World No. 1 in the FedEx ATP Rankings had lost all three finals he contested at home, including a heartbreaking five-set defeat to Jiri Novak the previous year in Gstaad. Although Gstaad held special memories for the 23-year-old as it was the site of his ATP Tour debut in 1998, he historically struggled there and lost in the opening round in each of his first four appearances.
Despite his heartbreak at this event, Federer arrived with confidence. He had successfully defended his Wimbledon crown the week before (d. Roddick) and also prevailed in Halle (d. Fish) to build up a 12-match winning streak.
But after receiving an opening-round bye, it appeared that Federer’s woes in Gstaad would continue against big-serving Croatian Ivo Karlovic, who racked up 15 aces on the slow clay court. Federer came within mere points of defeat, but dug deep to prevail 6-7(5), 6-3, 7-6(4).
Rain the previous day meant the top seed returned hours later for a quarter-final clash with Radek Stepanek. The unseeded Czech took advantage of a fatiguing Federer to grab the second set and an upset looked increasingly likely. With the home crowd urging him on, Federer stayed with Stepanek and broke late in the third set to advance 6-1, 5-7, 6-4. The Swiss spent nearly four hours on court to complete his two victories and advance to the semi-finals.
There would be no rest for the top seed as he contested his third match in 24 hours against Italian qualifier Potito Starace. Federer prevailed 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 to reach the landmark of 50 match wins that season, notching the milestone quicker than any man since Ivan Lendl in 1989. Although he admitted to feeling fatigued, he said that his five-set loss in the 2003 final “nearly killed me” and vowed to find energy for a championship clash with Russian Igor Andreev.
"I feel very tired right now, but I hope to recuperate enough this afternoon to play tomorrow,” Federer said. "I am tired, but I feel alright. I am a bit stiff, but that is to be expected. I think I have one more match in me, so I will have to get myself together and do my best.”
Federer came out swinging against Andreev, cracking 16 winners to eight unforced errors in storming to a two-sets lead. Nerves began to creep in for the Swiss as the title came within sight, but he eventually raised his arms in triumph after a backhand slice error from Andreev wrapped up a 6-2, 6-3, 5-7, 6-3 win.
The victory marked the first time in Federer’s career that he won three titles in a row. It also clinched his seventh title of the season, matching the number of trophies he lifted in 2003.
”I’ve attempted to win a title in Switzerland three times and now I’ve done it here in Gstaad. It means a lot to me,” Federer said. “It’s something I’ve dreamed of doing since I was a boy."
Federer wouldn’t return to Gstaad until 2013, when he was honoured in a special on-court ceremony and presented with a cow.