Roger Federer won the junior title at Wimbledon in 1998 at 16, establishing himself as one of the players to watch in the following years. The young Swiss needed a couple of years to find his A-game at the All England Club, unable to score a win in the first couple of trips to London.
In 1999, Jiri Novak toppled him 6-3, 3-6, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 in swift two hours and 18 minutes, despite Roger's rock-solid resistance. A year later, world no. 5 Yevgeny Kafelnikov defeated Federer 7-5, 7-5, 7-6, using his experience to grab the crucial points and leave a teenager empty-handed.
Roger's first successes at Wimbledon came in grand style in 2001 when he beat Christophe Rochus 6-2, 6-3, 6-2 in just over an hour, notching his first victory at the All England Club. Federer got broken once but that was barely noticed after a stellar performance on the return, delivering six breaks to leave one Belgian behind and set the clash against the other.
In round two, Roger had to work much harder, prevailing over Xavier Malisse 6-2, 7-5, 3-6, 4-6, 6-3 after two and a half hours, repelling 22 out of 26 break chances and scoring five breaks to cross the finish line first and secure the place in the last 32.
Federer wasn't happy with his performance, struggling to find the rhythm from the baseline or free points from the initial shot that would have kept his service game more reliable. Despite winning ten points fewer than Malisse, Roger went through and felt mighty relieved to find himself in the third round where he faced Jonas Bjorkman.
The Swiss needed two hours and 21 minutes to prevail over the Swede 7-6, 6-3, 7-6, setting the anticipated encounter against the seven-time champion Pete Sampras!
Federer had to dig deep in his games once again, allowing 11 break chances and repelling ten of those.
The more experienced Bjorkman gave his best but it wasn't enough at least for a set, getting broken twice from eight opportunities offered to Roger and losing ground in the decisive moments of both tie breaks, which made all the difference.
One crucial detail occurred to Roger Federer in this encounter, as he fell a couple of times due to slippery grass and hurt his groin. The youngster had to take painkillers to get ready for the next clash, the most important one of his early career.
Ranked in the top-15, Federer had already contested some notable matches. However, nothing could be compared with the upcoming duel against the Wimbledon king on the Centre Court of the most significant event in the world.