By Chris Oddo | @TheFanChild | Thursday, September 22, 2022
Pete Sampras was the legend of the sport – and hands-down king of the grass – that all players aspired to in the early 2000s. And before Roger Federer made his ascent to the top of tennis the Swiss, then a teenager, had a formative experience with the seven-time Wimbledon champion on Centre Court in 2001.
Sampras, who sent a heartfelt video tribute to Federer on Thursday via the ATP, remembers the occasion well.
“Not really sure where to begin, so I’ll just start from the very beginning,” Sampras said, referring to Federer’s 7-6(7), 5-7, 6-4, 6-7(2), 7-5 victory over Sampras in the round of 16 at Wimbledon in 2001. “When I first played you, you were 19 years old, an up and coming player and people were talking about you. And we had a great battle on the Centre Court of Wimbledon. And you took me down in a tough five-setter. And I just remember walking off the court, feeling like I met my match – truly a special player.
“Little did I know, 20 years later that you would have 20 majors, be number one for years, dominate our sport, and basically do it all.”
From one legend of the game to another ? @rogerfederer | #RForever pic.twitter.com/j36ugRxF2x
— ATP Tour (@atptour) September 22, 2022
Sampras went on to give praise to Federer for his illustrious, record-shattering career, making mention of the oft-overlooked work ethic and level of commitment that Federer put into his game and career.
“I know through those 20 years that you sacrificed, you dedicated yourself, you got your body, right – I don’t think people saw that side of you because you made the game look so easy,” Sampras said. “But I know you’re the ultimate professional when it comes to preparing. So pretty extraordinary what you’ve done.”
Sampras also hit on the sportsmanship of Federer, and the grace under pressure.
“I’ve admired the way you’ve handled it all from the very beginning to the very end,” he said. “You were always gracious in your defeats and gracious in your wins.”
The 14-time Slam champion has developed a friendship with Federer over the years, and said that the pair got a lot closer during their exhibition tour in China in 2007.
Spending time in the presence of the Swiss legend helped him understand what made Federer a unique talent – and human being.
“I’ve sat back and watched 20 years of brilliance, of heartache, of triumph,” he said. “And throughout the whole span of your career, you’ve never really changed. You were true to yourself and where you came from. You should look back to your career and feel really proud of what you’ve been able to accomplish.
“I just want to shout out to you and tell you that you’re gonna be missing our game. But you left the game in good hands.”