July 7, 1998: Roger Federer makes a debut on the ATP Tour in Gstaad

Tennis - 16-year-old lost to Lucas Arnold Ker 6-4-6-4 in 80 minutes

by Jovica Ilic
July 7, 1998: Roger Federer makes a debut on the ATP Tour in Gstaad

1998 was a very special year for young Roger Federer, he was included in a wild chase for junior year-end number 1 spot, won Wimbledon junior crown, and made his first steps on the Pro Tour. That Wimbledon crown (he won doubles with Olivier Rochus as well) put him in the spotlight of the tennis world, and he couldn't stay in London for too long.

Namely, just after beating Irakli Labadze in the final, Roger was informed that he received a wild card for the Swiss Open in Gstaad, that was starting on Monday. Tournament director Kobi Hermenjat followed Federer's progress closely and he reacted instantly, giving a 16-year-old a chance to make an ATP debut, despite his rank of 702nd! Set in the Bernese Alps, Swiss Open had a long tradition that goes back to 1915 and legends like John Newcombe, Tony Roche, Ken Rosewall and Roy Emerson (the Centre Court was named after him) were all victorious there.

Roger had to be quick to get back home in time, he had to skip Wimbledon Champions Dinner and to leave London already on Sunday. He took a flight to Basel and carried on towards Gstaad by a car, reaching the resort well after midnight.

Roger held a press conference on Monday, speaking about his Wimbledon success, but also about the fact he wasn't happy with the organizers' decision to put his match against Tommy Haas outside the centre court. In the meanwhile, Tommy had to withdraw before the match due to stomach trouble, and his place was taken by a lucky loser Lucas Arnold Ker from Argentina, ranked 88th.

Court number 1 was too small to embrace all the fans that wanted to see young Swiss star, and he fought well, losing 6-4 6-4 in 80 minutes. Ker was much more experienced, he loved to play on clay and Roger was forced to make a swift change from low-bouncing grass to this fast clay court in short time, and he was unable to grab at least a set.

After the match, Ker said that Roger already possesses a great Sampras-like serve, but youngster managed to get only 49% of the first serve in, and that made him work much harder than he would have wanted. Ker broke him 4 times from 5 chances and that was enough for straight sets win, although Roger broke his rival once in each set.

3 months later, Roger reached the quarter-final in Toulouse, which was a great overture for even better results in 1999.

Roger Federer