In February 2001, Roger Federer experienced one of the most important months of his early career, winning the first title in a career in Milan for a massive boost ahead of the next week's Davis Cup where Switzerland hosted the USA in Roger's hometown of Basel.
With no Pete Sampras or Andre Agassi in the American squad, Federer took down Todd Martin in four sets on Friday before stepping on the court in doubles as well together with Lorenzo Manta, delivering the second point for his country on February 10 thanks to a 6-4, 6-2, 7-5 triumph over Jan-Michael Gambill and Justin Gimelstob that kept Switzerland 2-1 in front.
On February 11, a teenager took down Jan-Michael Gambill 7-5, 6-2, 4-6, 6-2 in three hours to seal the deal for his country, becoming only the seventh player in the Davis Cup history with three victories over the record-holders USA in the same tie, joining Laurie Doherty (1903), Henri Cochet (1928), Frank Sedgman (1951), Neale Fraser (1959), Nicola Pietrangeli (1961) and Raul Ramirez (1975) on the exclusive list.
Playing with an extra motive and desire, Roger fended off three set points at 4-5 in the opener, breaking Gambill in the next game and holding at love for a 7-5 and a huge momentum ahead of the remaining sets. Federer played even better in set number two to open up a massive advantage, losing ground a little bit in the third before returning to his best with a break in the third game of the fourth set, controlling the pace by the end and taking it 6-2 to seal the deal and push Switzerland into the World Group quarter-final.
"I don't know; it was an excellent match today. I was playing okay, I mean, but not unbelievably, trying to break rival's rhythm and make him play bad. My legs were hurting but I was fighting; it was such a relief in the end.
I had to cry. It was such a nice feeling I never had before. I started to feel left leg problems already in the first set. I was like, "What is this now?" It was probably because of last week and all the pressure this weekend and in the previous two matches.
Still, I never thought it was going to bother me; I felt like it was better in the third and fourth set. I had muscle pain already yesterday, and it's probably a combination of everything. My total game was good for the whole weekend; I can't complain.
I'm serving well and feeling fine from the baseline, staying focused despite the tiredness, which wasn't always the case in the past. The crowd was also behind me; that also helped a lot. It's so hard to explain the feelings that go through your head.
It was just total relief, total happiness at one time; I was so happy for the team, happy for Switzerland to beat such a big country. I'm pleased about my performance all weekend. I think I can play better on this surface.
Maybe it has something to do with the balls because I usually think I can hit more winners from the baseline; the balls were pretty heavy, I thought. I played Jan-Michael at the Hopman Cup and I couldn't fire many more winners from the baseline in these fast indoor conditions; it was almost impossible.
I always would like to play Pete Sampras; I never played him. He was my idol when I was young and I want to play guys like them every week, although they are not playing the same weeks as I am. It would be nice to challenge the top guys regularly and if I keep playing well, I'm going to achieve that."