Wimbledon and the Davis Cup are finished and the start of the US Open Series is still a week away. To pass the time, Busted Racquet will be taking a daily look back at some classic matches via YouTube. Today we revisit the changing of the guard match in 2001 when a 19-year-old Roger Federer defeated Pete Sampras in the fourth round of Wimbledon.
1. Down 5-6 in the final set, Sampras goes down 0-30. He hits a big serve to get back to 15-30 and on the next point sends Federer wide for a tough return. At that instant, Sampras is looking at 30-30 and an easy hold to even the match. Federer hits a perfect return that tangles up Sampras, who takes the ball on the fly rather than let it bounce. It goes in the net and gives Federer two match points. Not to sound too hyperbolical, but that decision may have changed the course of recent tennis history.
Oh, no matter what happened Federer still was going to win his Grand Slams and Sampras was on his way out. It's not like this would have been a tectonic shift of events. But maybe Sampras gets that point, wins the match and earns his eighth Wimbledon and 15th Grand Slam. (He'd have had to go through Tim Henman, Goran Ivanisevic and Patrick Rafter in the final rounds.) Maybe the loss derails Federer's confidence for a little longer. The "what if" game is what makes it so fun.
2. In that vein, Sampras made a career of winning matches like the one he lost to Federer: a long battle finished quickly on a late-match break.
3. Federer always thinks he's going to win, so even when he does so unexpectedly (like against Novak Djokovic in this year's French Open), his celebrations are either of the "I'm great" or "I told you so" variety.* In this match, he looks genuinely surprised to be celebrating. And you have to love the respect he shows Sampras in running to the net to shake hands.
4. Seeing Federer with his ponytail reminds me of watching old clips of Andre Agassi with the mullet and jorts. They were so identified with that look and then changed it so drastically (Agassi to baldness and Federer's to a boyish mop) that it's jarring to remember the way they used to be.
5. Little else has changed with Federer. At left is a serve during the Sampras match. At right is a serve from this year's Wimbledon loss to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
6. Sampras entered the match having won four straight titles at Wimbledon and 56 of his last 57 matches at the event. He would only win one more match at the All England Club before his retirement in 2002. "You know something so great isn't going to last forever," he said after the match. "Today I just came up a little bit short."