Roger Federer and Pete Sampras will meet in their much hyped and sensationally marketed exhibition showdown at Madison Square Garden – the NetJets Showdown – on Monday, March 10. The match will mark Pete’s first competitive appearance in New York City since his career-climaxing US Open victory at the 2002 US Open. That victory is featured in an exclusive excerpt from the upcoming book THE BUD COLLINS HISTORY OF TENNIS (now available for pre-sale on amazon.com for 39 percent off. Go to www.newchapterpressmedia for more information). Another excerpt below from Rene Stauffer’s book THE ROGER FEDERER STORY, QUEST FOR PERFECTION(www.rogerfedererbook.com ) discusses the interaction between Pete and Roger following Roger’s win at the 2006 US Open. Readers and fans will find this a nice “warm-up” for Monday’s match, which is also broadcast live on The Tennis Channel at 7:30 pm eastern.
PETE’S LAST APPEARANCE IN NEW YORK – EXCERPTED FROM THE BUD COLLINS HISTORY OF TENNIS
But perhaps the biggest story of the year was the re-emergence of Pete Sampras, who broke an agonizing 33-tournament losing streak by winning the U.S. Open for the fifth time, recording a 14th major triumph in the process. Pete, at 31, became the oldest men’s U.S. Open champion since 35-year-old Ken Rosewall took the top honor at Forest Hills in 1970. Moreover, Sampras was the oldest man to rule at any major since Arthur Ashe (five days shy of his 32nd birthday) won Wimbledon in 1975.
To be sure, the soft-spoken yet deeply-driven American was the “Comeback Player of the Year.” In winning at Flushing Meadows for the first time in six years, Sampras emphatically answered the many media critics who insisted he no longer could play at that level. As usual, he spoke eloquently with his racket.
Despite a difficult hard-court season leading up to Flushing Meadows—he won only three of six matches in the three events he played—Sampras, seeded No. 17, was determined to peak at his country’s championships where he had been a finalist the previous two years. He made good on that goal, and then some. In the third round, he beat 1997 finalist Greg Rusedski, 7-6 (7-4), 4-6, 7-6 (7-3), 3-6, 6-4, a match contested over two nights as rain badly disrupted the Open program. Rusedski was not a gracious loser. He said bitterly, “I lost the match. He didn’t win it…I’d be surprised if he wins his next match against [Tommy] Haas. To be honest with you, I’d be very surprised. He’s a step-and-a-half slow coming to the net. You can get the ball down. He’s a great player from the past. You’re used to seeing Pete Sampras, 13-time Grand Slam champion. He’s not the same player.” Sampras was jovial in his response to Rusedski, but witty as well. “Against him,” he retorted, “I don’t really need to be a step-and-a-half quicker.”
But Sampras responded with alacrity on the court. He took a hard fought contest from the third-seeded Haas, 7-5, 6-4, 6-7 (5-7), 7-5 and then gave a scintillating account of his all-court talent in a 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 quarterfinal rout of Andy Roddick. It was a signature performance. Sampras had lost to the 20-year-old in their only two previous meetings, but this time around he was not to be denied, winning in 90 nearly immaculate minutes. He then easily dismissed the unflappable Schalken 7-6 (8-6), 7-6 (7-4), 6-2 in the semifinals.
Agassi, meanwhile, was also at the top of his game. He delighted the capacity semifinal crowd on Saturday by beating top-seed Hewitt, ending a three-match losing string to the pugnacious Aussie. But Hewitt was Sampras’s ally, keeping Andre hustling long and hard for three hours in the late afternoon decision, 6-4, 7-6 (7-5), 6-7 (1-7), 6-2. It was hot and taxing. The dream final between the two icons, Pete and Andre, materialized.
Sampras was primed for the occasion. He was devastatingly potent over the first two sets, dishing out 12 aces alone in the opening set. From 3-3 in the opening set, he won eight of the next ten games. Agassi fought back valiantly to capture the third set. Sampras served at 5-6 to reach a tie-breaker and had five game points, but a surging Agassi came up with some trademark scorching returns to get the break as Sampras struggled in vain, serving into the wind.
In the fourth set, Sampras served into the wind again in a crucial game at 1-2. It went to seven deuces with Sampras surviving two break points, one of them with a miraculous backhand drop half-volley that caught a dumbfounded Agassi in his tracks. At 3-4, Sampras was break point down again, but he kicked his serve high to the Agassi two-hander to elicit a netted return. He held on with an ace, broke Agassi in the following game, and then served out the match with characteristic brio. At 5-4, 30-0, with the wind at his back, Sampras came up with a clutch, second serve ace down the T. It was his 33rd of the match, a personal record for a major final. Two points later, he dispatched a backhand volley into the clear to complete a 6-3, 6-4, 5-7, 6-4 triumph.
He had beaten Agassi for the fourth time at the U.S Open without a loss (the third time in a final), and extended his career edge over his chief rival to 20-14. Sampras now stood at 14-4 in major finals, while Agassi was 7-6.
With his fifth Open prize in hand—placing him in a tie for the Open era record with Jimmy Connors— Sampras climbed into the stands to embrace his wife Bridgette. He was so gratified to be back on top at an elite event that he was unable to decide whether to continue, or quit on the pinnacle. Retirement won out in his thoughts. Although he would return in five years for brief appearances in exhibitions, World Team Tennis and senior events, and looked very good. But his big league days were over.
It’s almost unheard of to walk away after winning a major. Shirley Fry did after the Australian, 1957, Helen Wills Moody after Wimbledon in 1938. Now, Pete.
ROGER AND PETE AFTER 2006 US OPEN – EXCERPTED FROM THE ROGER FEDERER STORY, QUEST FOR PERFECTION
After his US Open victory, Federer returned home to Switzerland when he received a surprise phone call. Pete Sampras, whose legacy and records were now one of Federer’s biggest rivals, called to offer congratulations. “He had already text messaged me three days ago and now he was calling me to congratulate me personally,” said Federer shortly after the US Open. “He asked if I had gotten the message. I said I was just about to reply. It was almost embarrassing. Perhaps I should have replied quicker.” Sampras told Federer how much he liked to watch him play and emphasized that he now was more clearly dominant than he was during his prime. “To hear something like this from him was incredible,” Federer said. “It’s never happened to me before that my earlier idol called me to compliment me.”
Sampras and Federer continued their text message relationship, with Sampras offering more good wishes over the following few months. Before the tournament in Indian Wells in March of 2007, Federer then took the initiative and called Sampras, who meanwhile announced he was returning to competitive tennis on the Champions circuit run by his contemporary Jim Courier. Federer asked Sampras if he would like to hit some balls and train together. “I wanted to see how well he could still play because, after all, he was one of my favorite players growing up,” Federer explained. With a wink in his eye and devilish grin, he then said, “beating him in his backyard in Wimbledon was so special to me, so I wanted to try and beat him in his house.”
Federer and Sampras only played once during their careers—the memorable round of 16 match at Wimbledon in 2001. Late in Pete’s career, the two had one brief practice session together in Hamburg. “It started to rain,” Federer recollected. “I was so disappointed, but he was happy to get off.”
After their training session together in Los Angeles in the spring of 2007, Federer expressed his surprise at how well Sampras could still keep up during their practice session. “We played some great sets and tie-breaks. I’m glad to see that he’s actually still enjoying tennis.” The scores of these practice matches? “They’re secret,” Federer said. “Surprisingly, he was very good, but not good enough to beat me!”Federer found that he and Sampras shared many commonalities and could talk in great detail of their respective lives and pressures on the tour, as well as common experiences, experiences at particular tournaments and even about players who they both played against. With Woods, this was not the case. “Pete and I played the same tournaments and even played against the same opponents,” Federer said. “I have much more in common with Pete than I have with Tiger off court.”
“When I was new on the tour, I hardly ever spoke to Pete,” he continued. “First of all, he was never around at the courts, and when he would come into the locker room, everything was quiet because he was respected so much by all the other players.” Several years later, Federer finally got a chance to find out what made Sampras so unique and what brought him so close to perfection.