x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

'Staggered' Federer could win 20 majors

Pete Sampras believes Roger Federer can go on and win five more grand slams now he has passed the American's record.

From left to right: Bjorn Borg, Pete Sampras, Roger Federer and Rod Laver are the greatest living tennis players in the world.
From left to right: Bjorn Borg, Pete Sampras, Roger Federer and Rod Laver are the greatest living tennis players in the world.

LONDON // Pete Sampras has given up travelling since conquering the world on the way to what was for seven years a record haul of 14 grand slams. The American superstar promised to make one trip, however, to be able to offer his personal congratulations when his friend Roger Federer went past that magnificent mark.

Sampras, glad that he did not have to board a flight to Melbourne thanks to Rafael Nadal's heroics over the last 12 months, made a last-minute transatlantic booking after Federer had safely accounted for Tommy Haas to reach a seventh successive Wimbledon final. It was as high profile an entrance as any of the famous visitors to the All England Club's Royal Box has made. Sampras, tired and jet-lagged, arrived just after the final had started and had to wait until the first changeover to take his seat alongside Rod Laver and Bjorn Borg - the only other two men alive today whose achievements can be compared with those of Federer.

The Centre Court crowd were swift to acknowledge the appearance of their seven-time champion and alerted Federer, who was happy to allow his concentration to be broken for the only time in more than four hours of epic battle with Andy Roddick to say hello to his old pal. Sampras may have felt like taking 40 winks in the warm afternoon sun but he - like Laver, Borg and everybody else lucky enough to witness an impending moment of sporting history - sat riveted as a hugely courageous Roddick traded blow for blow with Federer until succumbing 16-14 in the longest final set of a grand slam.

"Andy played brilliantly and had his chances but Roger fully deserves this honour," said Sampras as he, Laver and Borg waited under Wimbledon's famous Kipling quotation "If you can meet with triumph and disaster and treat those twin impostors just the same..." to embrace the man who can now safely be called the greatest player of all time. "And he has not finished yet," warned Sampras. "Roger can go on to win 18 or 19 majors, perhaps even 20 because his style is so effortless and relaxed. He doesn't waste energy. He is a legend and a credit to the game. A stud."

As Federer posed for pictures with the three stars of bygone eras it was clear that the magnitude of his accomplishment had not properly sunk in. Even an hour later at his official media conference his mind was still in a whirl as he referred to being "staggered" by the "craziness" of what had gone on that afternoon. "Things didn't look so good when I lost in the final of the Australian Open, which was still just an unbelievable result," the 27-year-old said.

"I'm still processing the whole thing because a lot has happened in the last few weeks. It was such a historic day in tennis and me being the main character in this... I have so many pictures going through my mind." When he composes himself, he will believe that a sixth successive US Open and a 16th grand slam is well within reach, especially if his nemesis Rafael Nadal, the only man to beat him in major finals (five of them) continues to struggle for fitness.

Nadal's absence meant that Federer regained the world No 1 ranking by winning Wimbledon and the Swiss was asked whether the achievement is in any way tarnished by his Spanish rival not being able to defend the title. "No, I don't think it should," Federer responded. "That's the way it goes in tennis. Injuries are a big part of the game. Everybody expected [Andy] Murray to be in the final. He wasn't there. It's not the fault of the one who wins.

"Of course, I would have loved to play him [Nadal] again. But, then again, I've also played Andy Roddick now in three great Wimbledon finals and I think he deserves the credit, too, for playing so well. "You never know how Rafa would have played, but it's sad he couldn't even give it a fair chance. Tennis moves very quickly, you know." Apart from a bad back and illness which hampered him at the end of last year and the beginning of this, Federer has been blessed with a relatively trouble-free career which is endorsed by his remarkable record of reaching the semi-finals of all of the last 20 grand slams.

He said before the final that he wants his first child which is due imminently - it was a wonder it did not arrive during the match as his wife Mirka went through a spectrum of emotions - to see him play. So Sampras may be right. Twenty grand slams is a possibility. wjohnson@thenational.ae