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Posted on: July 04th, 2009

Unlikely union of Federer-Sampras

- petepage

June 29, 2009

WIMBLEDON, England -- On his way to victory last month in Paris, Roger Federer regularly received best wishes from one of his biggest fans back in California.

"He was writing me, always [texting] during the French and congratulating me," Federer said. "He is a class act."

Those texts, oddly enough, were from Pete Sampras, whose Grand Slam record Federer was in the process of equaling. Yes, from Sampras, the former player whose sparkling résumé is missing only one thing -- a title at Roland Garros.

Sampras and Federer. It is an unlikely union, for they couldn't be more different in terms of style, temperament and personality.

In 1971, Sampras was born in Washington, D.C., to Greek immigrant parents. A decade later, almost to the day, Federer came into the world outside of Basel, Switzerland, the product of two pharmaceutical workers. Sampras moved to California at the age of 7 so he could play tennis all the time. Federer, who lived in a town near both the French and German borders, once aspired to be a professional soccer player.

Sampras is a gym rat, a jock, who likes nothing better than to chill out and watch his Los Angeles Lakers. Federer is a suave citizen of the world. He speaks four languages -- Swiss German, German, French and English -- fluently in his postmatch news conferences. Sampras, a man of few words, always disdained his meetings with the media. Federer is friendly with most players in the locker room; Sampras was isolated and, quite often, lonely.

But with a racket in their hand, Sampras and Federer share so much. They both stand 6-foot-1 and weigh about 185 pounds. In the context of their narrow generations, it can be argued, they possessed the best serve and forehand. The subtle difference? Sampras played more aggressively, working his way ever forward; Federer plays along the baseline with the cool detachment of a surgeon slicing skin with a scalpel.

And, at least for today, they are bound by history. Federer and Sampras have each won 14 Grand Slam singles titles, the record. On Sunday, that delicate equilibrium could shift forever.

On Friday, Federer became the first man to reach seven consecutive finals at Wimbledon. He sent 31-year-old Tommy Haas home with a typically clean 7-6 (3), 7-5, 6-3 victory and will play the winner of the match between Andy Murray and Andy Roddick.

"I really felt when I was done, that [the record] was going to stand for quite a while," Sampras said Monday in an interview with ESPN at his Southern California home. "Little did I know that Roger Federer was going to come around eight years later and is probably going to break me. If not in the next few days, probably in the next few months or year or so.

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