September 14, 2014
An ecstatic Roger Federer was paraded shoulder-high in front of thousands of fans on a truly memorable day for his country. Switzerland have reached the Davis Cup final for only the second time in their history. They can now look forward to their first showpiece occasion for 22 years, a much-anticipated contest against France, away from home, in November.
Fittingly Federer, who has never won the Davis Cup, sealed his country’s advance with a 6-2, 6-3 7-6, (7-4) victory over Italy’s Fabio Fognini amid joyous scenes in Geneva. Federer said later: ‘It is nice sharing such emotions with my fellow team members and more than 18,000 fans here. ‘I really struggled today but you’ve got to fight with what you’ve got and now we’re in the final.
‘The most classic match-ups I’ve had in my career have been against France. They always seemed to lose at home and win away. So I guess I’m glad we’re playing them away!’
With the help of a noisy crowd, Federer unnerved Fognini at key moments in a match that Italy simply had to win in order to stay in the semi-final. The all-important clash may have taken place at lunchtime on a Sunday, yet the atmosphere was as raucous as any sporting fight on a Saturday night.
Broken in the sixth game of the first set, Fognini suffered a foot-fault and a double-fault at 2-5 down before capitulating on the third set point. Fognini crumbled again early in the second set and offered Federer the chance to take complete control. However, even the great man tightened momentarily, perhaps due to the enormity of the national occasion, and squandered three break points to gift the relieved Italian his first game in six.
As he admitted, it wasn’t a vintage Federer display in front of a partisan Swiss crowd, and his backhand often misfired. Yet he managed to maintain enough pressure on Fognini to foil Italy, who haven’t reached the final since 1976.
When Federer broke to go 5-3 ahead in the second, Fognini threw his racquet to the floor and the Swiss spectators rose to their feet. Their hero even had to wait for the singing to subside before he served out the set.
Federer faced break points at 1-2 but recovered to level in the third. We wondered for a moment whether the favourite might start to fade after Fognini won a classic rally to go 3-2 ahead in a set he had to win. The Italian had another break point to go 4-2 but squandered the opportunity. Even so, Fognini was playing the better tennis for long periods of the third, and Federer must have known that the tie-break could prove vital. The Swiss master benefited from a dubious line call as he went 3-1 ahead in the breaker. Fognini battled all the way back to 4-4. Federer sealed his nation’s historic win with a forehand, an ace and finally a determined rally which saw Fognini net for the last time.
Roger jumped wildly for joy, an indication perhaps of the pressure he had felt in the build-up to the tie. Then Stan Wawrinka helped to carry the national hero shoulder-high around the arena.
On the first day in Geneva, Roger Federer had beaten italy’s Simone Bolelli 7-6, 6-4, 6-4, while Wawrinka defeated Fognini 6-2, 6-3, 6-2.
Then the Swiss management made the surprising decision to leave out Federer for the doubles match which could have sealed victory against Italy as early as Saturday. Wawrinka had been in such sparkling form in his demolition of Fognini that it was felt his presence would be enough for his country to prevail if he played alongside his fellow Swiss Marco Chiudinelli against Simone Bolelli and Fognini again.
That left Federer watching from the sidelines, though we knew he would at least be fresher for the decisive Sunday showdown if Switzerland slipped up in the doubles. Indeed it seems inconceivable that Federer wasn’t consulted on the brave decision, which ultimately gave him the winning platform on Sunday.
Italy’s doubles pair certainly hadn’t been ready to give up on Saturday. They broke Chiudinelli’s serve to go 6-5 ahead, giving Fognini to serve for the first set. He did just that, closing out for the loss of only one rally. That 7-5 took exactly one hour and we wondered whether the tide had turned in what was becoming an emotionally-charged tie.
Wawrinka and Chiudinelli fought hard to dispel those suspicions, taking the next two sets 6-3, 7-5. But Fognini and Bolelli battled back to keep the semi-final alive with emphatic 6-3, 6-2 victories in the last two sets.
So it was all down to Federer on the Sunday. The man who had lost his US Open semi-final barely a week earlier had the chance to achieve a huge high for his country.
He was never going to be denied in such a highly-charged indoor arena in Geneva. Now the final against France awaits from November 21-23, either on clay in the deep south or indoors in Paris. The likes of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Gael Monfils and Richard Gasquet will aim to provide more tenacious resistance on home ground. If Federer can overcome that final challenge, he will cap an incredible career in style.