On July 2, 2001, 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 in the fourth round! It was the first and only match between two of the greatest players of all time, with both making sure to deliver a remarkable one, with the full attacking grass-court tennis that we would often miss on the sacred Wimbledon courts after that.
Federer was the upcoming star at 19 years and ten months, heading to the All England Club after reaching the first Major 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, although he was always dangerous at those courts, chasing the fifth consecutive title and the eighth overall and hoping to add his name to the record books one more time.
It wasn't to be for him that day, though, losing before the quarter-final for the first time since 1991 and playing only one more match at Wimbledon a year later. Pete had 31 straight wins at Wimbledon and 56 in the last 57 encounters before Roger ended that streak, kicking off his third campaign with no wins and becoming the first player with a five-setter triumph over Pete in the cathedral of tennis.
Federer won ten points more than Sampras, fended off nine out of 11 break chances and delivered four breaks of serve from 14 opportunities to cross the finish line and dethrone the legend. They hit 174 service winners in 370 points (89 for Roger, 85 for Pete), with 47% of the points not seeing a rally at all!
Also, 325 exchanges ended in the shortest range up to four strokes, and the Swiss forged a 170-155 advantage in those, doing more damage with the initial forehand or volley to generate the crucial difference. Pete had a 24-19 lead in the mid-range rallies with five to eight shots, which wasn't enough to carry him over the finish line, with only two points reaching over eight shots, an excellent indicator of how fast the encounter was.
Roger needed a good start in his first match on the Centre Court, 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. After three mistakes, the American faced three break points in the fourth game and erased them in no time with five winners that kept him on the positive side of the scoreboard.
At 3-3, Federer faced the first break chance, staying calm to oppose it and remain in touch until the tie break where he saved a set point at 5-6 with a service winner and took it 9-7 after Sampras' unforced error for a massive boost.
In set number two, Sampras fended off all six break points and stole Roger's serve in the closing stages to take it 7-5 and restore the order. Serving at 5-6, the young gun sprayed five mistakes to hand the set to Pete and start all over if he wanted to cause an upset.
He did that in set number three after finding the formula to crack Pete's serve and breaking him twice for 6-4.
Roger Federer toppled Pete Sampras after epic five sets at Wimbledon 2001.
In game three, Roger placed a return winner to create the lead and stayed in front only for a couple of minutes, as Sampras broke back with three winners.
The American survived a break chance at 3-3 with a service winner before wasting a 40-15 advantage in the ninth game and spraying four errors to send Roger 5-4 up. In one of the encounter's essential games, 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, faced no break points and created two at 4-3 that Roger dismissed with winners. The Swiss reached a tie break that the more experienced player won 7-2 to level the overall score at 2-2 and send the clash into a decider.
There, Federer left the drama and excitement behind him and dropped only six points behind the initial shot, four of those at 4-4 when he fended off two break points to avoid an inevitable defeat. Pete lost six points in the first five service games, but that all changed when the pressure reached its peak.
The American suffered a break at 15 in the 12th game after Roger's two return winners that carried the youngster over the finish line and into the first Wimbledon quarter-final. "It feels unbelievable to beat Pete Sampras at Wimbledon.
I mean, I went out on the court today trying to beat him, but I knew it wouldn't be easy. I'm pleased with my performance today, from the first to the last point. It's just a great feeling I've never had before.
I would say the return was the key factor of my victory because I had the feeling I had more chances than he did. Especially in the first three sets, I always had chances to break him, but he came up with some big serves. Then, suddenly, I didn't have any break chances in the fourth and fifth sets.
He was serving too good. Maybe I was a bit passive on the returns in those moments, but I'm still happy with my game. I felt excellent on the court from the start since I won my first service game. That one is never easy to grab, especially after playing on the Centre Court for the first time, against one of my former idols.
I won it at love or 15, and that gave me a little boost to go into the match; the whole court was packed; there's no way you're going to stop fighting. Sometimes it was weird, looking on the other side of the net and seeing Pete, but that feeling went away at some point; you think about your serve, and where you're going to go; then it's like playing against maybe some other player. But obviously, it was something special for me to play against Pete," Roger Federer said.