SILENCE around the stadium as Pete Sampras prepares to serve on match point at Wimbledon.
It’s a familiar setting for the American, a seven-time champion, but today is different.
Sampras is not serving for victory this time.
Lose this point and he is eliminated.
On the other side of the net his teenage opponent waits, hair in a neat pony tail, wooden bead jewellery around his neck.
It’s his first appearance in front of the Centre Court crowd.
Sampras crashes a serve out wide and begins a charge towards the net, he wants to follow up with a signature volley.
But the return is too powerful and beyond his reach as it comes thumping down the line. It all happens so quickly.
The crowd roars as the 19-year-old winner falls to the ground in disbelief, a five-set epic over in an instant. He has beaten the champion, his idol.
“Game, set and match . . .
On 2 July 2001, with world number one Sampras, then aged 29, expected to win a fifth straight Wimbledon title, Roger Federer claimed a stunning victory in the fourth round. It was a breakthrough moment for a young man who has gone on to usurp his hero’s remarkable record at SW19.
Twenty years later, Federer is now a 20-time Grand Slam winner. He has won Wimbledon eight times – one more than Sampras.
He’ll play at this year’s tournament just over a month before his 40th birthday.
Here, BBC Sport looks back on that Sampras-Federer match-up, the only time these two tennis greats would meet on court in an official match. It was a landmark moment in the evolution of the modern game.
The second Monday of Wimbledon is known as ‘Manic Monday’. All 32 men and women remaining in the singles draws are scheduled to play on the same day and upsets are highly anticipated. Still, there were only a few who might have expected one on Centre Court.
Sampras was going for a record-extending eighth title and had only lost once at the All England Club since 1993. Federer was an enigmatic talent making his way in the game.
He’d won the prestigious boys’ championship at Wimbledon in 1998 and was seeded 15, but for many in the crowd, he was an unknown.
Iain Carter was commentating for BBC Radio 5 Live. He’d been first alerted to Federer’s vast potential at the Australian Open the previous year.
“I remember driving into Wimbledon with a real sense of excitement because already Federer had shown signs that he’d be a special talent, you knew he was going to be the next big thing,” Carter says.
“You also knew that Sampras was a little bit vulnerable. He’d lost to Marat Safin in the US Open final the year before and against Todd Martin in the Australian Open fourth round. But of course he was ‘Mr Invincible’ on grass.”
Paul Annacone, Sampras’s coach, had scouted the young Swiss. He was anticipating a tough match.
“Everybody knew how talented Roger was, an incredibly gifted athlete,” says Annacone, who reached a world ranking of 12 in his career.
“The question with a young player like that is how they’re going to handle the big moment. That you don’t know.” The answer comes early in the first set.
If Federer has any nerves there are no signs of them as he carves out three break points in Sampras’ second service game. The champion has to claw back control and hold on, all the way to a tie-break.
It’s Sampras who reaches the first set point – hitting 121mph on his second serve to make it 6-5. He’s then incensed with the line judge’s call as Federer’s serve is deemed in for 6-6.
The tie-break reaches 7-7 when Federer’s return clips the net and Sampras has to improvise to slice his volley back over the net.
Federer then blasts a backhand straight at the American, which he volleys long.
It gives Federer his second set point, this time on his serve.
Sampras’ backhand into the net seals a nail-biting first set for the Swiss teenager. The scene is set for a classic.
“The atmosphere grew and grew,” says Carter. “There was a collective sense of hubbub, people thinking: ‘Hang on, there’s something happening here.’ The way Federer moved so gracefully about the court was eye-catching.”
Sampras’ record at Wimbledon cannot be overstated. He’d won 56 of his previous 57 matches and claimed more singles titles than any other male player in the competition’s history. His 13 Grand Slams was a world record in the men’s game at that time.
“One of Pete’s biggest strengths is that he’s so pragmatic,” Annacone says. “Whether it’s Wimbledon, Miami, Monte Carlo or the French Open, he was methodical about his routine and this year was no different.
“He was feeling pretty comfortable, but he has that balance of having confidence without taking anything for granted.”
Two double faults from Federer with the score 5-6 in the second set and Sampras takes a 0-40 lead for three set points.
Federer fights back to deuce but the top seed’s experience tells. There’s a fist pump from Sampras as his opponent’s forehand volley at the net sails long. The scores are levelled at one set each.
British number one Tim Henman and Sampras were good friends, they practised together and both played an aggressive serve-and-volley game. They’d met seven times with Sampras winning six, including the Wimbledon semi-finals of 1998 and 1999.
“His single-mindedness, and how he was able, on and off the court, to maintain this incredible focus meant he let nothing distract him in the pursuit of winning majors,” says Henman. – BBCsport.