On this day 18 years ago, the future Wimbledon king Roger Federer took down the seven-time champion Pete Sampras 7-6(7), 5-7, 6-4, 6-7(2), 7-5 in three hours and 41 minutes! It was the only match between two of the greatest players of all time and they for sure made it a memorable one, with the full attacking grass court tennis that was hardly seen on the sacred Wimbledon courts ever since.
At the age of 19 years and ten months, Federer was the upcoming star, heading to Wimbledon after reaching the first Grand Slam quarter-final in Paris and winning the first ATP crown earlier that year in Milan. On the other hand, Sampras was not in great form that year but he was always dangerous at Wimbledon, chasing the fifth consecutive title and the eighth overall, looking to add his name to the record books once again.
It wasn't to be for him on that July 2, losing before the quarter-final for the first time since 1991 and playing only one match at beloved courts before retiring in 2002. Pete had 31 straight wins at Wimbledon and 56 in the last 57 encounters before Roger who managed to end that streak, never winning a match at Wimbledon before this year and becoming the first player with a five-setter triumph over Pete in the cathedral of tennis.
In the end, Federer won ten points more than Sampras, fending off nine out of 11 break points and delivering four breaks of serve from 14 opportunities to cross the finish line and dethrone one of the greatest players of all time.
They hit 174 service winners in 370 points overall (89 for Roger, 85 for Pete), with 47% of the points not seeing a rally at all! Also, 325 points ended in the shortest range up to four strokes and the Swiss was 170-155 in front, doing more damage with the initial forehand or volley to forge the crucial difference.
Pete had a 24-19 advantage in the mid-range exchanges with five to eight shots which wasn't enough to carry him over the finish line, and there were only two rallies with more than eight shots, an excellent indicator of how fast the encounter was.
Roger needed a good start and he blasted four service winners in the opening game, followed by a similar answer from Sampras who leveled the score with four booming serves of his own. After three mistakes, the American faced three break points in the fourth game and erased them in no time at all with five winners that pushed him towards 2-2.
At 3-3, Federer faced his first break point and stayed calm to oppose it and remain on the positive side of the scoreboard until the tie break where he saved a set point at 5-6 with a service winner, taking it 9-7 after an unforced error from Sampras for a massive boost.
In set number two, Sampras fended off all six break points, stealing Roger's serve once to take it 7-5 and restore the order ahead of the remaining sets. Two double faults could have cost Roger a lot in the fourth game, landing three service winners to get out of jail and create two break chances in the very next game.
Sampras remained composed, firing four winners to keep his serve unbroken and working hard at 3-3 as well to erase four break points and gain a boost. Serving at 5-6, the young gun sprayed five mistakes that cost him dearly, handing the set to Pete and having to start all over if he wanted to cause an upset.
He did that in set number three, finding the formula to crack Pete's serve and breaking him twice for a 6-4. Roger placed a return winner in game three to create the lead, staying in front only for a couple of minutes as Sampras broke back in the next game with three winners.
The American survived a break point at 3-3 with a service winner before wasting a 40-15 advantage in the ninth game, spraying four errors that sent Roger 5-4 up. In one of the most important games of the match, Federer clocked four good serves to take the set 6-4 and move closer to the finish line and brilliant triumph.
With no room for errors, Sampras raised his game in set number four, facing no break points and creating two break points at 4-3 that Roger dismissed with winners to reach a tie break that the more experienced player won 7-2, leveling the overall score at 2-2 and sending the clash into a decider.
There, Federer managed to leave the drama and excitement behind him, dropping only six points on serve, four of those at 4-4 when he fended off two break points to avoid an inevitable defeat. Pete lost six points behind the initial shot in the first five service game and that all changed when the pressure reached its peak, suffering a break at 15 in the 12th game after two return winners from Federer that carried the young gun over the finish line and into the first Wimbledon quarter-final.