A basic general knowledge question. Who was the first Tennis player from Switzerland to have won a medal in the Olympics? Many people would be saying Roger Federer when he secured the doubles gold in 2008 Beijing. But, the answer is wrong. 16 years earlier, during the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, there was one player from Switzerland who defied the odds and clinched the gold medal. In 1992, he had scaled great heights in men’s doubles and was regularly beating top players in Grand Slams and the Davis Cup.
Marc Rossett of Switzerland was one of the first players from Switzerland to have won a Tennis medal. Even better, he went on to win gold. The achievements of Rossett in 1992 probably laid the groundwork for Tennis to become popular in the country.
Rossett became popular when he won the Geneva Open in 1989 in his first year as a professional. In 1991, one year before the Olympics, he partnered with Sergi Bruguera to win his first doubles title also in Geneva. Heading into the 1992 event in Barcelona, no one gave Marc Rossett a chance. Although the field was slightly weakened, there was still some top players who were going to make a mark.
The Swiss player started off his campaign with a tough four-set win against Emilio Sanchez in the quarterfinals. However, his crowning glory came in the semi-final against Goran Ivanisevic of Croatia. The big-serving Croat was making big waves in the sport. He had reached the final of Wimbledon 1992 where he was beaten in five sets by Andre Agassi.
Rossett defeated Ivanisevic in three straight sets and reached the final. He would face Spain’s Jordi Arrese. The Spaniard, who had reached a career-high rank of 23, had once again surprised opponents as he reached the final.
In a marathon match full of twists and turns, both players gave it their all. Rossett won the first two sets 7-6, 6-4. The tie-breaker was won in emphatic style by the Swiss. However, Arrese won the next two sets 6-3 and 6-4 to force the match into the deciding fifth and final set. Both players gave it their all as the match became intense.
At 6-6, the match went into extra-time. But, Rossett held his nerve and secured a brilliant 8-6 win in the final set to create history. Rossett had become the first Tennis player from Switzerland to have won the gold in the Olympics.
1992 was proving to be a great year for Rossett. Before the Olympics, he had won the French Open doubles with his compatriot Jakub Hlasek. He also helped Switzerland reach the final of the Davis Cup tournament. However, Switzerland lost to USA in the final.
Rosset also enjoyed success playing in other international team competitions for Switzerland. In 1996, he was a member of the teams which won the World Team Cup and finished runners-up in the Hopman Cup. In that same year, he also achieved his best performance at a Grand Slam when he beat Carl-Uwe Steeb, Jiri Novak, Jakob Hlasek, Stefan Edberg and Bernd Karbacher before losing to Michael Stich in the semifinals.
Rossett’s life was changed due to a change of plans in the last minute. In September 1998, Rossett crashed out of the first round of the US Open. He was initially supposed to take Swissair Flight 111 but he had to alter his plans.
Swissair Flight 111 crashed in the Atlantic Ocean, killing all people on board. Had Rossett boarded the flight, he would have not escaped with his life. In his later playing days, Rossett had good success in the Davis Cup. In a way, the change of flight plans ensured he held a future great to a stalemate.
When one looks at Roger Federer now, he is the undisputed great in Tennis. His 20 Grand Slams are a benchmark for dominance. But, in his initial years, he struggled against Rossett. He lost his first two encounters although they were close ones. Rossett won two three-set matches in 2000 in London and Marseilles. However, Federer pulled two back with straight sets win in Sydney and Basel.
Rosset’s career-high ATP singles ranking was world No. 9, and his career-high doubles ranking was world No. 8. He won a total of 15 top-level singles titles and eight doubles titles. He won at least one singles title on all surfaces: clay, grass, carpet, and hard court. At over two meters in height, Rosset was one of the game’s tallest players. He was one of the game’s fastest servers and served aces consistently in his career.