From his front row seat in the Royal Box, Pete Sampras watched as Roger Federer broke his record for most Grand Slam singles titles in men’s tennis history.
After Federer overcame Andy Roddick in a marathon, five-set serving duel on Sunday for his sixth Wimbledon title and 15th Grand Slam championship, Sampras was left with no doubt about who the greatest male player of all time is.
“I have to give it to him,” said Sampras, a seven-time Wimbledon champion who never thought his record of 14 major titles would be surpassed so soon. “He’s won all the majors. He’s won 15 now. He’s going to win a few more here. So in my book he is [the greatest].”
The issue will always generate debate and argument, especially in trying to compare players of different generations, such as Rod Laver and Bill Tilden. But there is no denying that Federer has firmly cemented himself as the finest player of the generation and, at age 27, the favorite for other major titles to come.
“It’s not really one of those goals you set as a little boy, but, man, it’s been quite a career and quite a month,” said Federer, who completed a career Grand Slam by winning his first French Open a month ago. “It feels amazing, but this is not why I’m playing tennis to break all sort of different records. But it’s definitely one of the greatest ones to have.”
It took four hours, 16 minutes, five sets and 77 games for Federer to secure the record on Sunday in another epic Wimbledon final. Federer served a career-high 50 aces and overcame the resilient Roddick 5-7, 7-6 (6), 7-6 (5), 3-6, 16-14 — the longest match and longest fifth set in Grand Slam final history in terms of games.
And he did it all after saving four break points in the second set tiebreaker, when he was so close to falling two sets behind.
After going 0-6 on break points, Federer finally broke the American in the 30th game of the fifth set — with Roddick shanking a forehand on the first match point.
“It’s staggering that I’ve been able to play so well for so many years now and stay injury-free,” said Federer, who won his first Grand Slam title at Wimbledon in 2003. “I’m happy I broke the record here because this is always the tournament that meant the most to me. It definitely feels like coming full circle, starting it here and ending it here.”
Sampras flew in from California on Sunday, making his first appearance at the All England Club since playing this tournament for the last time in 2002. He arrived in the Royal Box after the third game of the match. Accompanied by his wife, Bridgette Wilson, he sat next to Spanish great Manolo Santana and a few seats from Laver and Bjorn Borg. When Federer walked from his changeover chair to the service line, he gestured to Sampras in greeting.
“In a way, I still feel like we share [the record] because he was such a wonderful champion,” Federer said. “He still has one up against me here at Wimbledon. It’s nice that he shows appreciation for what I’m doing.”
Federer is the third player to win six Wimbledon championships — Sampras and William Renshaw each won seven.
“He’s a stud,” Sampras said. “He’s only 27. He’ll contend here for many years, and the US Open, and all the majors. If he just keeps it going and stays healthy, he could go to 18, 19, potentially. The guy, he’s a legend. Now he’s an icon.”