2 July 2001. The new millennium had begun a few months ago and the world was about to change for real, but still no one knew. We would all have noticed it a short time later, on a late summer day, glued to our televisions tuned to the same event all over the world.
On July 2, however, summer had just begun and September was still far away. Like every year, the first few weeks of summer bring tennis to its temple: in southwest London, on the grass of the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, better known as Wimbledon.
Roger Federer, who today has twenty Grand Slams in his collection and a few dozen broken records, was not yet twenty and had not yet entered the top 10 in the world, he was fifteenth. There was already talk of him as an extremely gifted boy with a racket, of course, but still far, far from being the universal symbol of tennis royalty and not that appears to us today.
He was a promise, in short: a boy who was said to be very good in the circles of the circuit, with a stylistically not flawless pigtail and the face of the teenager who has just ceased to be. With shots not yet perfect and a character still to be filed.
The strongest of all, that July 2, 2001, was another. An American Greek, introverted and taciturn, with the face of a good boy and dark curls, as shy in life as he is disruptive on the tennis court: at the American registry office he is registered as Petros, for the rest of the world he is Pete, and surname is Sampras.
The ruler of the 90s. Former World number 1 Andy Roddick has drawn a specific comparison between two modern tennis greats–Roger Federer and Pete Sampras–in terms of their playing style.
Roddick on Roger Federer and Pete Sampras
"That changed even before this last injury," Andy Roddick said in a recent interview.
"We all made a big deal about the bigger racket; Roger Federer's taking cuts on his backhand. That was not a necessity. He did not want to play defense as much. If the rally was not over in the first two or three shots, he was going to make sure it was over by the fourth shot unless it was a deuce or a 30-all point," he continued.
"Similar to what we saw from Pete Sampras for a lot of his career." After a six-month break from surgery, Federer rejoined the tour physically refreshed and mentally free without the weight of expectation. Federer worked with his coach Ivan Lubiĉić on a flatter, hard, and early backhand in the interim.
He returned to his initial technique, spreading both arms behind him, rising on his right leg loaded with power. The “neo-backhand” is widely credited as having won Federer the 2017 Australian Open as he was able to keep points short, hitting winners off the return of serve and creating sharp angles early in rallies.
Most importantly, Federer could neutralise Nadal’s forehand in the final with such a powerful and flat shot. The backhand helped gain him further titles, including that year’s Wimbledon and the 2018 Australian Open.