Roger Federer returns to Davis Cup play this week....Here is a excerpt from the book THE ROGER FEDERER STORY, QUEST FOR PERFECTION (www.rogerfedererbook.com
) by Rene Stauffer that gives readers some insights into Roger and his Davis Cup career.
Uproar at the Davis Cup
Davis Cup captains are among the most publicly visible personalities in tennis. During often tension-filled Davis Cup weeks, they become the most important figures for players who are used to their own rituals and routines. Since Davis Cup rules—in effect since 1900—allow each team captain to remain on the court to coach and converse with players during matches, Davis Cup captains become even more important during these often dramatic, pressure-filled nationalistic matches than a coach on the regular tour. Since Davis Cup captains must hail from the country they are representing, the number of candidates to choose from is often limited and friction, power struggles and dismissals occur very often.
This phenomenon is well-known in Switzerland’s Davis Cup history. In 1992, when Marc Rosset led the team to its only appearance in the Davis Cup Final, the captain, Roland Stadler, was suddenly relived of his duties. When asked what a Davis Cup captain actually does, Austrian Thomas Muster, referring to the difficult balancing act, said that he must “hold the towel, hold the water and shut up.”
Federer’s near single-handed effort against the United States in Basel temporarily relieved any tension in the Swiss Davis Cup camp, but nonetheless trouble was still brewing in the Swiss team. The unrest stemmed from a decision at the end of 1999, when the Swiss Tennis Federation replaced the popular team captain and director Claudio Mezzadri with Jakob Hlasek, a former top 10 player. The players clearly favored Mezzadri and they felt that it was an affront that Hlasek, the association’s favorite, was being forced upon them. Not only that, but Hlasek’s five-year contract gave him broad authority.
The Swiss Tennis Federation knew that hiring Hlasek had hidden dangers but it underestimated the consequences of its move. With Rosset as the ringleader, the Swiss players threatened to boycott Switzerland’s home
match against Australia in 2000, but they backed down at the last minute. At that time, Federer was forced to remain neutral in the controversy as he was contractually obligated to play Davis Cup in exchange for the Swiss Tennis Federation financially supporting him on the tour. But now, following his separation from Swiss Tennis, he was free and could choose if he wanted to play or not.
On the eve of the Olympic Games in Sydney, Switzerland’s Davis Cup manager René Stammbach managed to coax a commitment out of Federer to play Davis Cup for Switzerland in 2001 under Hlasek. To sweeten the deal, Federer received an offer allowing Peter Lundgren to be integrated into the team. In addition, Stammbach offered to review the situation at the end of the year and comply with Federer’s wishes if his relationship with Hlasek did not improve.
The strained relationship between Federer and Hlasek was difficult to determine. The chemistry between the two just didn’t work. Hlasek was a no-nonsense, mechanical worker who valued discipline and wanted to keep
the Davis Cup team under his thumb as much as possible. Federer, on the other hand, was an artist who liked to be surrounded by people who were looking for a change of pace, team spirit and fun. Under Hlasek, Federer was deprived of this environment, which made it even more astonishing that Federer played so well under Hlasek up until this point.
The situation escalated dramatically in April of 2001 in the quarterfinals against France in the Swiss city of Neuchatel. On the first day, Rosset and Arnaud Clement opened the series and engaged in an epic five-set struggle that lasted almost six hours, with the fifth set alone lasting two-and-a-half-hours. Despite serving for the match, Rosset faltered and lost to the Frenchman 15-13 in the fifth set. The match consisted of 72 games and at the time was the longest Davis Cup match since tie-breaks were instituted in 1989
Following the marathon match, the unexpected happened. Federer played France’s No. 2 player, Nicolas Escude, who was ranked lower than him, but repeated his success in Rotterdam over the Swiss No. 1 in a four-set win to give France the 2-0 lead. Following the match—at nearly midnight due to the length of the Rosset-Clement match—Federer spoke to the media with a grim look on his face at the post-match press conference. When asked of his lackluster performance, he did not hold anything back. “The truth is that it’s no longer working out with Jakob Hlasek,” he said. “I felt that on the court. We’ve been having problems with each other for a long time but this time, it just didn’t work. It wasn’t any fun being on the court.” Federer said that he needed someone sitting in the coach’s chair who he could talk to, with whom he got along with and with whom he could have fun. “That isn’t the case with Jakob.”
Federer’s emotional outburst revealed the less familiar, uncompromising side of his personality—like a proud lion reacting passionately when things were not going his way. But the question still remained—how had Federer performed so well in previous matches against Australia, Belarus and the United States with Hlasek sitting courtside by his side? There was speculation that he was not happy with the fact that the relationship between Rosset and Hlasek improved and that he was jealous that Rosset was stealing the limelight from him. Roger’s match with Escude took place after the epic Rosset-Clement match and most journalists were busy writing and analyzing about that match rather than focus on Federer. Weary spectators left the stadium soon after the Rosset match having seen enough tennis for the day.
Switzerland had never come from 0-2 behind to win a Davis Cup match, but Federer led the unexpected effort. With Manta, he helped the Swiss to victory in the doubles, by a 9-7 in the fifth margin over Fabrice Santoro and
Cedric Pioline. In the first reverse singles match on Sunday, Federer tied the match at 2-2, defeating Clement in four sets. The impossible comeback from 0-2 appeared on its way to happening. In the deciding fifth and final match, George Bastl, who replaced the exhausted Rosset, reached match point against Escude. During a long rally from the baseline, a spectator shouted—in the belief that Escude’s ball had landed out. The ball landed in and Bastl, distracted by the shout, made the error and went on to lose the match 8-6 in the fifth set. The Swiss lost to the French 3-2 after having played 23 sets over 21 hours.
Shortly afterwards, Federer dispatched a statement to the Swiss Tennis Federation in which he confirmed that he would no longer play under Hlasek. A few weeks later, the contract between Hlasek and Swiss Tennis—that would have been valid through 2005—was terminated. Australian Peter Carter, Federer’s coach from his junior years, succeeded Hlasek as the director of the team, while it was determined that players not involved in the matches would assume the “official” role as team captain.
Hlasek had to go—even though he amassed an impressive record as captain. Against Australia, the Swiss were one set from victory, and against France, they were one point from reaching the semifinals. Belarus and the United States were soundly defeated. Hlasek was at the wrong place at the wrong time—or, as viewed from another perspective, Roger Federer had Swiss professional tennis under his complete control by the age of 19.