I had the chance to attend this year’s Swiss Indoors ATP 500 semi-finals and finals in Basel a few weeks ago.
A friend of mine had been offered by her daughter for Christmas 2020, double tickets for the Basel 2021 semi-finals and final.
The organisers cancelled the event due to covid restrictions, and tickets were still valid in 2022 for the 50th anniversary of the tournament.
She originally planned to travel to Switzerland with a family member who could not make it this year. She then offered me, before the summer, to enjoy tennis live with her.
We booked train tickets and a hotel room for two nights midway between Bahnhof and St Jakobshalle, the tournament venue.
We would have the Sunday morning to stroll through the city centre. I already know Basel. I went there in the past for the Fasnacht, the traditional carnival filling the Rhine city with fifes and drums the three days before Lent. I like this town.
We then imagined Federer would still play. When he announced his retirement last September, we thought the Swiss Indoors would be his final tournament.
We had a secret hope he may reach at least the semis to be able to watch him play a professional match one more (last ?) time.
A bad knee prevented him from being there and us from cheering for him. I have read some people with tickets cancelled their travel to Basel this year when they knew Federer would not play.
We decided to go, for the love of tennis! And maybe, the local hero would come to say goodbye, although not playing. Anyway, with the entry list which had been announced (Kyrgios, Auger-Aliassime, Rune, Bautista Agut, Alcaraz, Ruud and the like), we would experience good tennis, and we did.
We left Paris early on Saturday, October 29. A Lyria train as precise as a Rolex watch reached Basel three hours later under a warm sun.
While looking at a map to reach the correct tram stop, a kind older man was our guide. A peRFect start!
A few stops from the Bahnhof, our hotel stood there, a XIXth century building, a few metres from the tram stop, with an Italian restaurant inside.
Pasta for the players, pizzas for the ball kids, and delicious (and expensive) Italian cuisine for our two post-match dinners. Its decoration came from a former carousel with horses as colourful as Nike outfits.
We left our suitcase, could enjoy a free and delicious welcome coffee and got the transportation Basel card from the receptionist: it allowed us to travel freely for the whole weekend. Great!
Off we go to the St Jakobshalle – nine tram stops from there. The venue is nice, clean and large. The staff people are cool and helpful. A security officer even led us to the terrace.
After a Swiss “wurst” and drink, we reached our seats oriented three-quarters behind the umpire chair. In front of us, a couple was sitting. The woman wore a sleeveless Nadal-like t-shirt. I think she was right-handed and played tennis. Her right forearm had huge muscles, and the left one was skinny. It made us think of somebody!
The doubles semi-final was taking place with our Frenchies Roger-Vasselin / Mahut, who lost to Krajicek / Dodig.
Too bad, but they fought until the end.
The singles semi between Félix Auger-Aliassime and Carlos Alcaraz was, on paper, full of promises. Félix served and played very well a powerful “tennis en chaussons”, as a journalist wrote.
A lethal serve and punchy play with cat-like athleticism remind us of a Swiss guy born not far from here.
Carlos was a bit flat, visibly tired after a long season. My friend and I had good laughs – myself encouraging Carlitos and her cheering for Felix.
In the second semi-final, a tighter one, we could appreciate Agut’s fighting spirit and Rune’s delightful drop shots. Rune was well on his way to brilliantly winning the Paris Masters a few days later.
With its centuries-old tradition, the Basel Autumn Fair is part of the city’s living cultural heritage. A traditional fair takes place in the heart of the city for two weeks during the same period as the Swiss Indoors.
It is known throughout the tri-national region and attracts nearly a million people from Switzerland and abroad to Basel yearly.
From Barfüsserplatz to Messeplatz, from Petersplatz to the cathedral: in seve
n squares, you can discover breathtaking carousels, traditional fairground stalls and nostalgic attractions. (I must be precise; I have no shares in the “my Switzeŕland” program).
Nostalgia… here we are.
Although Roger was not present in Basel this autumn, I guess most of his fans and I felt a kind of sadness mixed with gratitude for his deeds in this arena for so many years.
A large board in the entrance hall of the St. Jakobshalle shows all previous winners of the Basel trophy. Try and read them loud… 10 times in 14 years; Roger won the title. That enumeration gets you dizzy as on a roller-coaster, no?
On Sunday, the day of the finals, the beautiful gilded trophy Fed held aloft so many times was exhibited in a transparent glass case, whirling like a carousel, glittering under the electric light.
We made pictures beside it, of course. Ahead of the final match with Félix and Holger, a video was shown on the large screens reminding us of all the former champions since 1970: from Borg to Lendl, from Edberg to Sampras, from Nalbandian to Del Potro.
Such big names, but when Roger’s dominance in Basel was shown on the screen, there was a shivering wave among the crowd and applause, of course.
After an excellent match, another guy, born on August 8, won the trophy. Felix was as happy as his first name means.
Before he was coated with a shower of golden confetti as on a Fasnacht day, Félix (and Holger) felt and provided the audience with another gust of emotion: each player gave a medal to a perfectly aligned line of ball kids with beautiful music in the background.
I am sure many of us thought about Roger doing the same thing not so long ago. Tears were not far; I filmed part of the medal ceremony.
Nostalgia was also there when Marco Chiudinelli, one of Federer’s childhood friends, did the interviews on the court in excellent English after the games. His questions are excellent and well-prepared.
As well as, the Herbstmesse has celebrated autumn and harvests since 1471 with good food and wine, joy and smiles; we felt the Swiss Indoors had the same spirit even with Roger’s absence. His aura somewhat still floated in the air. The ride was fun, and our stay in that beautiful city was the same. Thank you, Roger.
On Sunday morning, we could have a glimpse of it: we walked to the cathedral surrounded by the fair attractions, admired the red stone and decorations of the city hall (Rathaus) – where the 2014 Swiss Davis Cup victory was celebrated – enjoyed a drink on a boat thanks to a mini-cruise on the Rhine River (half price thanks to the Basel card).
We passed by the Novartis-Ciba area where Robert Federer, Roger’s father, used to work. But unfortunately, we did not see the Federer Express tramway.
On Monday, we spent our last Swiss Francs buying some chocolate and some Läckerli (local gingerbread with honey, almonds and candied fruit) for our families in the pastry shop next to the hotel. Then we took our last tram to the Bahnhof.
In the Migros flower shop inside the station, magnificent bouquets of royal protea (the South African national flower) were like a hint to the local hero’s second citizenship. Next to them, the first Santa Claus decorations were being installed. Time flies and Christmas is approaching.
On the station walls, large paintings celebrate other aspects of the Swiss highness: Matterhorn, Zermatt, soon to be wrapped in cottony snow.
On our red and white train back to Paris, we could read (in German) the 2022 tennis yearbook given freely to us at the venue. The first pages celebrate the champions of the season, and the last one, Roger, at the end of his glorious career with texts and pictures showing him with his almost perennial smile (and a few tears!). Nostalgia again.
But my friend and I smiled too after such an enjoyable weekend in Switzerland. Thank you, my dear, it was great!
Maybe the Vienna Open in a year or two? We want to watch the Old Gen, the Next Gen, the Baby Gen, or Thiem play in his hometown, another one-handed backhand boy.
Tchüss…and chum jetze! 😀