LONDON, UK - Today, a win over a World No.6 in the fourth round would be expected, but back then it was one of the wins that truly put him on the radar - and probably helped propel him to greatness.
On July 2, 2001 - exactly 16 years ago - a 19-year-old Roger Federer pulled off an absolute stunner in the fourth round of Wimbledon over Pete Sampras, who hadn’t just won 31 straight matches and four straight titles at the All-England Club, he had won the title there seven of the last eight years.
The odds were stacked against Federer - he was ranked No.15 in the world, he had never beaten a Top 10 player at a major, he hadn’t even played on Centre Court before - but he battled for almost four hours to stun the No.6-ranked former World No.1 over five sets, 7-6(7) 5-7 6-4 6-7(2) 7-5.
Check out highlights from one of the most memorable Centre Court clashes of all time:
“It feels unbelievable, of course,” Federer said after the match. “I went out on the court today trying to beat him. I knew it was not going to be easy. At the end, it was a great feeling I’d never had before.
“Obviously it was something special for me to play Pete today.”
Sampras only had good things to say about then-up-and-comer Federer.
“I’m very disappointed, obviously, but I lost to a really, really good player today. He played great. He’s a great shotmaker. He won the big points. He came up with some really good stuff at huge times.
“I give him a lot of credit. He really played very well.”
Federer would go on to lose to Tim Henman in his next match in the quarterfinals, but Wimbledon would soon become his most successful Grand Slam, winning the title seven times in 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009 and 2012. He doesn’t have more than five titles at any other major.
And Sampras may have seen it coming. “There are a lot of young guys coming up, and Roger is one of them,” the American legend said, “but I think he’s a little more extra special than the other guys.”