Roger Federer had been one of the most promising players in the world in the early 2000s, a junior Wimbledon champion from 1999 and the year-end no. 1 player who made significant progress through the ATP rankings in 2000. The Swiss reached his first ATP finals in Marseille and Basel that year, starting the season ranked 61st and ending in the top-30, with eyes set upon bigger goals in 2001.
The only thing that was missing on the youngster's tally was the ATP title, Roger's primary goal at the beginning of 2001, ready to step up his game and go all the way. Earlier, Federer started working with Pierre Paganini, pretty much the best fitness coach he could find, building a great team around him together with Peter Lundgren that started to show the results very soon.
Paganini managed to pair up Federer's outstanding talent with strength and stamina on the court, making him mentally even stronger and waiting for that first success on the Tour. After all the hard work he had been up to in December 2000, Federer was ready to fight against the world's leading players next season that started with the Hopman Cup crown with Martina Hingis.
After that, Roger reached the quarter-final in Sydney and the third round in Melbourne, with February proving to be the month that he waited for so long! Roger came to Milan for his first indoor tournament of the season, ready to make the damage on super fast indoor carpet court, reaching his previous two ATP finals on an indoor surface as well.
Ranked 27th at that moment, the 19-year-old Swiss took down Rainer Schuettler 6-3, 6-4 to open the campaign, dropping ten points on serve and breaking the German five times after taking more than half of the return points.
Cyril Saulnier was his next rival and a teenager found himself in trouble after the opening set, raising the level after that to score a 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory that propelled him into the quarter-final. Both players scored four breaks (Roger had more chances, though) and it was Federer who delivered his in the crucial moments of the final two sets, advancing into his 14th ATP quarter-final.
There, Goran Ivanisevic stood on Roger's path towards the third ATP final, with the Swiss beating the Croat 6-4, 6-4 in swift 57 minutes after keeping his second serve safe and breaking an amazing server once in each set to book his place in the last four.
World no. 7 Yevgeny Kafelnikov was the only opponent left before the title match and Federer toppled him 6-2, 6-7, 6-3 in an hour and 50 minutes, earning the fifth top-10 victory and the place in the third ATP final. Again, it was an excellent display from the youngster who served well and kept the points on his racquet, fending off five out of seven break chances and stealing opponents serve five times from nine opportunities created.
Julien Boutter was the last obstacle on Federer's quest for the maiden ATP crown, with the Swiss ousting the Frenchman 6-4, 6-7, 6-4 in two hours and 20 minutes to lift his first ATP trophy! As the result suggests, it was a close match but Federer was the one who controlled the most of it, playing better behind the second serve and facing seven break chances in comparison to 14 that Boutter had to play against.
The Frenchman, who played in his first ATP final, did well to break Roger's serve five times, losing the edge after suffering seven breaks on the other side, giving away 43% of the points behind his initial shot. Federer broke in the third game of the encounter with a forehand winner, only to lose his serve in the very next game after wasting game points that could have pushed him 3-1 up.
Julien repelled two break chances in the fifth game and scored another break a few minutes later to open a 4-2 lead when Federer netted an easy forehand. Nonetheless, Roger kept his coolness and rattled off the next four games to take the opener 6-4, overcoming game points from Julien at 2-4 and securing another break at 4-4 to seal the set with a volley winner in game ten.
Players exchanged breaks in the third and fourth games of the second set and Julien scored another one at 4-3 with a return winner, serving for the set in the next game. Federer did well to prolong the set, though, breaking back and saving two set points in the tenth game to set up a tie break where he had a match point at 6-5 after a forehand winner.
Boutter fended it off with a volley winner to steal the breaker 9-7 thanks to two winners, gathering the momentum before the decider, especially after that match point he saved. It was interesting to see how Roger would react in the third set following a huge chance he wasted, which brings us to the beginning of the story where we talked about the preparations the Swiss endured to get ready for this kind of effort.
He broke in the very first game of the decider when Boutter sprayed a forehand error, keeping the advantage until the end and sealing the deal with a good attack in game ten to start the title celebration of the first out of many trophies he would lift on the Tour over the next two decades.