Articles Comments

Samprasfanz » Archives 2003 to 2011 » Pete Sampras: Federer can take my records

Pete Sampras: Federer can take my records

December 17, 2007 – Sugar-coated, empty compliments from one celebrity to another might be the way things are done in nearby Hollywood, but there was no doubting that this was Mr Sincere talking tennis from his mansion in Beverly Hills. Such were the affectionate words from Pete Sampras that you would not be that surprised if he was a fully paid-up member of the Roger Federer Appreciation Society, right down to owning a cowbell or two.

From Beverly Hills to Basle, the admiration between tennis champions was obvious. Federer is collecting grand slam titles the way Maria Sharapova collects postage stamps – with enthusiasm. And so there is every chance that, in the 2008 season, Federer will equal Sampras’ record of 14 slam titles. Possibly even break it. But don’t expect Sampras to be grumpy about losing his record, about losing the place in history he spent all his life working to achieve. Sampras is pleased that the man tearing strips off his record is someone such as Federer. “Roger is going to make some history in 2008. The history books will soon all be his,” Sampras said.

And ‘Pistol Pete’ did not hold back, claiming that the world had never seen anything like his friend Federer.

“What Roger has been doing the last three years or so has been nothing short of phenomenal – I think he has been the most dominant individual sportsman in the history of mankind. I can’t think of anyone in an individual sport who has even got close to what Roger has done the last few years,” Sampras said of the Swiss, who goes into next month’s Australian Open with 12 majors to his name.

“But I don’t think that Roger is at all comfortable with how great he is. Roger and I were talking about this a few weeks ago, the debate about who is the greatest tennis player in history, and he found the whole conversation really uncomfortable.

“Roger isn’t playing tennis for the limelight, for the pat on the back and for the medal at the end of the race. He plays tennis because he loves tennis, and he is competitive when he gets out there on the court, but I don’t think he’s doing it for the praise and to be called the greatest. All he wants to do is get out there and play tennis, and that’s what I love about Roger, that you can see he loves the game.”

They became buddies during the 2007 season, with Federer popping round to hit a few balls on a court in Sampras’ back garden in the spring. Unfortunately, history does not record whether Sampras’ wife, the Hollywood actress Bridgette Wilson, served them homemade lemonade between games. Anyway, that was when the bond began, and in the autumn Federer and Sampras played a series of exhibition matches across Asia, a mini-tour which suggested that Sampras could possibly still be ranked in the world’s top 10.

Sampras said: “When Roger came to my house, it was great. We had a hit for a few hours, played a few points, did some drills, and spoke about tennis, about the different generations. But it was probably only in Asia that I got to know him that well. We hung out a ton there, and there was a connection between us.

“Roger is such a great guy, and we had a lot of laughs over dinners. He is a funny guy, he likes his jokes, and is a bit of a prankster.

“I think that’s a side of him which he likes to keep private. All those things that people do say about Roger, they are all true – he is a humble guy, he’s down to earth. I love the way he handles himself. Tennis couldn’t have a better ambassador.”

On quitting the sport, Sampras must have thought his record was as safe as a Swiss bank vault. “Did I want my record to stand forever? Absolutely. Having the record was something I really strove for, and worked so hard for, but I really don’t mind that it’s someone like Roger breaking my record.”

It was as recently as the 2002 US Open that Sampras won the last of his 14 slams. But Federer won his first major, the Wimbledon title, the following season, and has since established a strong-arm hold on men’s tennis. Sampras said: “Roger’s the favourite for the Australian Open, so that’s 13, and he has a good chance of winning the French Open, even though he’s never done that before, and so he could equal my record in Paris. And he could break it on Centre Court at Wimbledon, which would be something.

“If he doesn’t win the French Open, then he will probably break it at the US Open.

“I don’t think it’s a shoo-in, and there is a lot more work for him to do, but I think he has a great chance of doing it in 2008. The story for the last few years has been Roger breaking all the records – during 2007, he beat the Jimmy Connors record for most consecutive weeks at No 1, and soon the grand slam record is going to be his as well. Soon all the records are going to be his, and I’m pleased for him. He is dominating the sport more than I ever did, more than anyone ever has.”

Sampras said he could not think of a way to improve Federer’s tennis. “Roger has got no holes in his game, he’s got the whole package, and he rarely has an off-day, and even then he usually finds a way to win.

“Our games are different as I used to take more risks, so I probably had more off-days. There are a few players who have gone toe-to-toe with him, such as [Rafael] Nadal and [Novak] Djokovic, but Roger always seems to have something extra when it really matters, especially at the grand slams. He’s got another gear.”

In the 2008 season Federer could even achieve the ‘Golden Slam’ – all four majors plus Olympic gold. And Sampras thinks Federer, still only 26, could even reach 20 slams. “Once he breaks the record, it will be interesting to see whether he keeps the motivation and the hunger. I think he will, that he’s going to keep on winning. I think he’s going to win 17, 18, 19, or maybe 20 slams.

“When you are No 1 there are always people after you. You have to spend the whole time fending people off, and however great you are, it can be tough to maintain that. As great as Roger is, that’s tough. I’ve been in that situation before, so I know what it’s like. But I think there’s definitely a chance that Roger will want to keep going until well into his 30s. He will feel it in his blood when it’s time to go.”

Does Sampras regard Federer as what Americans call the ‘GOAT’ (the Greatest Of All Time)? “It’s difficult to say who is the greatest tennis player in history. The people who are usually mentioned are Roger, myself and Rod Laver, and I think it’s probably one of us three.

“Roger’s critics say that he can’t be the greatest of all time unless he wins the French Open, but I don’t think that’s true.

“It’s difficult to compare generations, as things have changed so much since Laver’s day. Rod was my hero, and I have such great respect for what he did, but I remember him telling me once that he only had to start playing from the fourth round onwards. There’s no way that’s the case now, as you really have to turn it on from the first round onwards.

“I think there’s a chance that people will look back on Roger as the greatest of all time.” So says the sage in Beverly Hills.

Filed under: Archives 2003 to 2011

Leave a Reply