Roger Federer recalls Pete Sampras clash: ‘I knew I can beat him’

In 2001, the Wimbledon fourth round saw the clash between the current and future All England Club kings, with the young gun Roger Federer toppling the seven-time champion Pete Sampras 7-6(7), 5-7, 6-4, 6-7(2), 7-5 in three hours and 41 minutes. Competing at Wimbledon for the third time, the 1998 junior champion found his A-game to leave the legend and one of his idols behind, staying focused in the decider’s closing stages to move over the top and secure one of the most emotional triumphs of his extensive career. Federer came to London after reaching the Roland Garros quarter-final, gathering momentum and staying focused from start to finish to dethrone Pete, who would return to Wimbledon only once again in 2002. It was the worst result for the American at his beloved tournament since 1991, winning 31 straight matches in the cathedral of tennis before this loss and suffering the first five-setter defeat as well!

Roger saved nine out of 11 break points, produced his best tennis when it mattered the most and made a massive step forward after saving a set point in the first set tie break, which he described as one of the encounters’ pivotal moments. They landed a service winner in almost half of the points on the fast grass court, with Federer having the upper hand in those dominant short exchanges. He took ten points more than Sampras in that segment and repelled two break chances at 4-4 in the decider to stay alive. Pete had to pay the price for those chances he wasted, suffering a break at 15 in game 12 and allowing Federer to seal the deal with a return winner that propelled him into the quarters against Tim Henman. 

Roger Federer described his confidence ahead of epic 2001 Wimbledon clash vs. Sampras.

“I had the feeling that that first set was essential, that I came back from a set point down in the tie break to bring it home. That gave me a lot of confidence because I had the feeling I can beat him. That’s probably why I won today. I played a bad game to lose the second set, struggling with my leg. That probably relaxed me mentally a bit. I had trouble running to a couple of balls, but I was relaxed. That’s why I was not tired in the fifth set, feeling good in all five. Pete’s serve was massive in the beginning, giving me no chance.

Normally, I’m pretty good at reading serves, but that wasn’t the case against him, with his second serve flying faster than my first. Still, I had the feeling I was in a good position on his second serve, even though he was serving 120 miles per hour. Suddenly when I was 40-0 or 40-15 up on the return, I knew I would always get a chance at some point. I was holding serves pretty easily at that time. Many friends and players told me, ‘This year, I think you can beat him.’ I’ve played a great year so far – better than he did, and I knew this was possible,” said Roger Federer. 

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