It was February 4, 2001. Twenty years ago. A certain Roger Federer, still 19, was winning his first ATP tournament. It was the Milan Indoor at the Palalido and the Swiss - red jersey, long hair still wild, some pimples, a bit stunned under the happy smile - he defeated in the final (6-4, 6-7, 6-4) French Julien Boutter.
It was only the beginning of one of the most extraordinary stories not only of tennis but of the whole history of sport, as well as, but this is basically secondary, of a love story with the city: "I love Milan - he told one day - .
The food, the clubs, the shopping, the people, even the traffic. And then here I have always expressed myself well». Federer, now 39, has collected 102 more ATP victories, including 20 Grand Slams and 5 Atp Finals, to which must be added a Davis Cup with Switzerland and the silver medal at the London 2012 Olympics.
But it all began there, at Milan, on the fast indoor Palalido. A day that he said one day: «I had lost the previous two finals in Marseille and Basel, so I really wanted to win my first title. I remember it as a beautiful week: along the way I beat some great players like Moya and Kafelnikov, before overtaking Boutter in the final.
I was very tense when I entered the field and that victory was more of a relief than true joy and happiness. I never thought I could win so many trophies ». Although even then they called him "little Sampras"
The teacher and model that five months later Federer would have defeated at Wimbledon in the match that would have meant the generational change between two legends of modern tennis.
Boutter talks about Roger Federer
Julien Boutter came into the match feeling poised to claim his first title as well.
He beat Roger Federer in their only prior match, in a Challenger event in Grenoble two years before. “He was already considered the future Pete Sampras, but at that time he was still untested and quite nervous on the court,” Boutter said in a January interview with ATPTour.com.
“I was confident… it could have been my final. He said that he never should have lost that match,” Boutter recalls. Boutter says that he knew Federer would be a great player, but had no idea he’d win 102 more titles and become one of the all-time greats.
He thinks the Milan story could have been different if he hadn’t lost serve in that third set when it should have been Federer’s service game after he had dropped the tie-break. “I told Roger ‘Imagine if I had won that match, our careers would be switched’,” said Boutter, who reached a career high of No. 46 in the FedEx ATP Rankings in 2002. “He laughed and said ‘Yeah probably.’"