Roger Federer: ‘I feel lucky for playing against Pete Sampras once’

On July 2, 2001, the future Wimbledon king Roger Federer took down the seven-time champion All England Club champion Pete Sampras 7-6(7), 5-7, 6-4, 6-7(2), 7-5 in three hours and 41 minutes in the fourth round! It was the first and only match between two tennis giants, and they made it a remarkable one, with the full attacking grass-court tennis that we would often miss on the sacred Wimbledon courts in the years to come. At 19 years and ten months, Federer was the upcoming star, heading to the All England Club after the first Major quarter-final in Paris and the first ATP crown earned earlier that year in Milan. Despite not playing well that season, Sampras was always dangerous at these courts, chasing the fifth consecutive title and the eighth Wimbledon, hoping to add his name to the record books one more time.

It wasn’t to be for him on that day, though, losing before the quarter-final for the first time since 1991 and playing only one more match at Wimbledon a year later! Pete had 31 straight wins at Wimbledon and 56 in the last 57 encounters before Roger ended that streak, heading to Wimbledon with no victories in a couple of trips to London and becoming the first player with a five-setter triumph over Pete in the cathedral of tennis! Federer won ten points more than Sampras, repelling nine out of 11 break chances and delivering four breaks from 14 opportunities to cross the finish line and prevail in the deciding set’s closing stages.

Roger Federer spoke about his Wimbledon victory vs. Sampras at US Open 2003.

They hit 174 service winners in 370 points overall (89 for Roger, 85 for Pete), with 47% of the initial shots not seeing returned ball! Also, 325 exchanges ended in the shortest range up to four strokes where the Swiss had a 170-155 advantage, forging triumph in that area alongside better tennis in the decisive moments. Speaking about this clash ahead of the US Open two years later, Federer said he feels lucky for having a chance to play against Pete at least once. Remembering that thrilling victory, Roger expressed his feelings about the American not competing anymore, respecting his decision to retire after an incredible career.

“I came to New York for the first time in 1998; it’s an intimidating city, with the skyscrapers and everything. It’s a bustling city, and it’s not easy to relax if you don’t stay in your room. I feel much more relaxed after winning Wimbledon; it wasn’t easy to deal with pressure at Majors before it, and I don’t have to prove anything anymore. After a big title, you always have to set new goals. My next goal is to become world no. 1 and win more titles by the end of the year, starting from the US Open. I’m motivated to perform well in those events. There are around five favorites for the title. Still, you have to wait for the quarter-final to speak about that; the field is wide open. I’m lucky for playing against Pete Sampras once. I was always looking forward to getting that chance. It was a big shock when I beat him at Wimbledon but not anymore, as he hasn’t been playing for over a year. It’s a pity that he’s leaving; still, that’s his decision, and we have to respect it,” Roger Federer said.

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