Roger Federer had made his first tennis steps in the hometown of Basel, having a chance to be a ball boy at this event back in 1993. Four years later we saw him in the qualifying draw and his main draw debut had come in 1998 when he lost to Andre Agassi in straight sets, still at the age of 17.
Just two years later, Roger had a chance to fight for the first Basel title, losing in the final to Thomas Enqvist in five sets before losing another title match to Tim Henman 6-3 6-4 6-2 a year later. Federer had passed the home event in 2004 and 2005 during his best seasons on the Tour, returning in 2006 as the world number 1 and the favorite to finally lift the trophy in front of his friends and family.
A week earlier, he had won the Madrid Masters and continued in the same style in Basel, defeating Tomas Zib, Guillermo Garcia-Lopez and David Ferrer to reach the semis where he had to come from a 5-3 down in the final set tie break against Paradorn Srichaphan, winning the last four points of the match to set up the final clash with Fernando Gonzalez.
The Chilean was ranked 7th at that moment and he came to Basel as the defending champion and after a good run in Vienna (lost to Ljubicic in the final) and Madrid where Federer toppled him in the title match. Roger needed an hour and 59 minutes to dismiss Gonzalez 6-3 6-2 7-6, lifting his first title in Basel and the 44th ATP trophy overall, already the 11th of that amazing season.
The Swiss star hit 14 aces and he lost 17 points in 15 service games, saving both break points he faced to keep the pressure on the other side of the net. On the other hand, Gonzalez served at only 55% and he struggled on his second serve, having to play against 11 break points and getting broken three times to end the match on the losing side.
Federer had more winners and fewer number of unforced errors, dominating in both the shortest and longer points to control the scoreboard and bring the match home in straight sets, in what was the last best-of-five Basel final.
Roger settled into a nice rhythm on serve right from the start and he earned a break point in game six, converting it with a beautiful backhand down the line winner for a 4-2 lead. A forehand winner sent Roger 5-2 up after just 23 minutes and he served for the set in game nine.
He needed no second invitation, sealing the deal with an ace to wrap up the opener in less than half an hour. Fernando couldn't make a fresh start in set number two, dropping serve already in the first game and suffering another break in game three to find himself 3-0 down when Roger forced an error from his opponent with a deep return.
Federer was still in the full control in his games, opening a 4-0 lead with a service winner and we were yet to see a deuce or a break point on his serve. Gonzalez saved a set point in game seven with a nice drop shot but Roger brought the set home with four winners in game eight, taking two sets to love lead after just 56 minutes of play.
The Chilean fends off a break point at the start of the third set to at least stay in touch and he finally got a chance to do something more on the return, creating a break point in game four. Roger repelled it with a volley winner but he faced another one after a forehand error.
He saved this one as well with a service winner, bringing the game home with two more unreturned serves for a 2-2. They fought well in the following games and Gonzalez saved a break point with a forehand winner at 3-3 to stay in front, playing like he had to since the start of the match.
It was Roger's turn to make some damage on the return in game 11, cracking a backhand down the line winner to forge a break chance but Fernando stayed focused, fending it off with a good serve. He had to play against another one following a similar backhand winner from Roger and the Swiss missed a great opportunity to move in front, sending an easy forehand long.
Gonzalez saved the third break point with an unreturnable serve and he eventually held when Federer's volley landed long, in what had been the longest game of the match. Roger held at love in game 12 to set up a tie break and he grabbed the lead with a mini-break in the opening point, which is always important.
A backhand error from Gonzalez pushed him 6-3 up and he clinched the triumph with yet another service winner, celebrating the first title in the hometown in front of the delightful crowd and setting the tone for the many years to come.