I'm just back from New York City. The place is getting very excited about the Federer Sampras match on March 10. Pictures all around the Garden. You'd think Pete was still number 1 American!
This was in the NY Times this morning.
They Cannot be Serious!
By RALPH GARDNER JR.
Published: March 2, 2008
Don’t tell tennis fans that the March 10 “NetJets Showdown” between Roger Federer and Pete Sampras is just a friendly exhibition. Nineteen thousand tickets have been sold. The excitement stems from the belief that Sampras may really make it a match. Retired five years, he is a still-robust 36, roughly the same age Andre Agassi was when he pushed Federer to four sets in a U.S. Open final. And then there’s that serve. As Federer, 26, has said of Sampras: “You can wake him up at 2 in the morning and he’ll hit a monster serve.” Rare, if not unprecedented, is the opportunity to watch champions from different eras — perhaps the two greatest of all time — take a whack at each other. A few thoughts on Sampras’s attempt at the nearly impossible.
DON’T KNOCK THE VENUE
Madison Square Garden doesn’t exactly seem like an intimate arena for tennis. But it is — at least compared to Arthur Ashe Stadium, home of the U.S. Open final. The Garden’s stratospheric cheap seats are actually closer to the court than Arthur Ashe’s: 202 feet versus 230 feet to the farthest row. And the view is much less vertiginous — you’re hovering about 65 feet over the action at the Garden, compared with 108 feet at Ashe, where fans have been known to feel as if they were trying to eavesdrop from outer space.
WHO’S THE GREATEST?
Sampras and Federer met only once professionally, in the Round of 16 at Wimbledon in 2001. Federer prevailed, 7-6, 5-7, 6-4, 6-7, 7-5, perhaps hastening Sampras’s decision to hang up his Nikes. Sampras, who retired two years later at age 32, remains the most successful player in history, having won 14 majors to Federer’s 12 — though the latter was two years younger when he reached that number. Sampras holds 64 tournament titles to Federer’s 53, but the Swiss has a higher overall winning percentage — 80 percent versus 77 percent. Sampras still holds the record for most weeks at No. 1: 286. But Federer claims the most consecutive weeks on top — 213 and counting.
THEY HAVE HISTORY
Sampras and Federer played three exhibition matches last November. Sampras lost the first match, in Seoul, 6-4, 6-3. He improved but came up short again in Kuala Lumpur, 7-6, 7-6. The third time, in Macau, he took Federer 7-6, 6-4. There were suspicions that Federer threw Sampras a bone, though both deny it. An impressed Federer recently described Sampras’s talent as “intimidating, because he reminded me so much of myself.” Was that sincerity or the sound of a drumstick whistling through the air?
DO THEY REALLY CARE?
Both players are out to entertain, but if the score is tied — say, 3-3 in the third set — all bets are off. Nonetheless, don’t expect either to dive into the flower beds to save a break point. Nick Bollettieri, tennis coach extraordinaire, has no doubt they’ll both play hard — that’s what made them great champions — but he suggests a way to make things really interesting: “I’d like to see these guys put up $5 million of their own money, and [NetJets] put up $10 million, and the winner takes $20 million. Then you’d see something.”
Sampras acknowledged that Asia’s fast courts worked to his advantage. But Federer made an interesting admission,
too, according to Peter Bodo, co-author of Sampras’s autobiography: he told Sampras it was hard to play a serve-and-volleyer, because he faces one so rarely. Why? Because they’re a dying breed. Players who approach the net do so at their own peril. Ivan Lendl, a former champ and a promoter of the Garden event, says that today’s steroidal strings give the ball “tremendous topspin. You’re at the net and the ball is still dipping a lot. It’s very difficult to volley.”
AN EVEN PLAYING FIELD
The court will be medium-fast: quick enough for Sampras to detonate his serve but leisurely enough for Federer to perform his trademark magic. “Pete wants the points short and snappy,” the tennis announcer Mary Carillo says. “The longer a point goes, the more it’s going to favor Federer.” Justin Gimelstob, Sampras’s practice partner, says Federer told him he “didn’t feel like he could read Sampras’s serve. He doesn’t face a lot of players that can attack like Pete can.”