Federer’s greatness attracts special fan

first_imgDon’t just take my word for it. Listen, instead, to someone who knows a lot more about tennis, someone who figures it is a matter of when – not whether – Federer will break Pete Sampras’ records of 14 Grand Slam titles. Listen to Pistol Pete himself. “I did all I could do in the ’90s, and I really thought the 14 would be tough to beat. Little did I know Roger would come along and dominate the way he has – and that could last a while longer,” Sampras said Monday in a telephone interview from Los Angeles. “If there’s a player and a person that I’d like to see break this, it would be Roger. He’s a great guy. Lets his racket do the talking. One of those humble champions I like.” COMMENTARY: Sampras cheers as Swiss star chases his Grand Slam mark. By Howard Fendrich THE ASSOCIATED PRESS NEW YORK – Some advice, sports fans: Be sure to appreciate Roger Federer, to relish his brilliance with a racket, to understand exactly what a rare treat a champion of his caliber and character is. Still only 26, Federer collected his 12th Grand Slam title Sunday at the U.S. Open by beating Novak Djokovic, 7-6 (4), 7-6 (2), 6-4. Among the 40 or so congratulatory text messages Federer received afterward was one from his pal Tiger Woods, whose career is in many ways defined by his pursuit of Jack Nicklaus’ record for golf majors. How quickly could Federer pass Sampras? Consider this: In 2004, 2006 and 2007, Federer won three of each season’s four majors. “It’s exciting. Very exciting. I mean, I used to not like it so much. All that, `He’s the one who can break it.’ Or, `He will break it. He’s so talented,’ and stuff,” Federer told a group of reporters Monday at a Times Square restaurant. “And you’re like, `Ooof, my God, I’m so far away.’ It’s just hard, and it wears on you.” “So to have caught up so quickly to Pete is a big bonus for me, already early on in my career. … And the focus is becoming more and more the Grand Slams.” In the next breath, Federer made sure to point out that he takes all tournaments, big and small, seriously. With 51 total titles, who could argue? But he clearly is signaling that he is finally ready to embrace the chase. So, to his credit, is the man whose mark is being pursued. And Sampras, who was 31 when he won the 2002 U.S. Open for his last major title, doesn’t expect Federer to stop at 14. Or 15. “I won’t be disappointed – it’s more respect than anything. Would I like my record to last forever? Of course. But records are made to be broken,” Sampras said. “He’ll win a ton more. Motivation will be his biggest hurdle, but he could win 17, 18 majors the way he’s going, if he’s healthy.” If there’s a knock on Federer, it’s pretty much the same as the only one people could come up with when Sampras ruled tennis. He’s kind of boring, they say. Doesn’t berate linesmen on the court the way Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe did, doesn’t raise a ruckus off it the way Boris Becker and Bjorn Borg did. Hasn’t married an actress (Brooke Shields) or a tennis star (Steffi Graf) the way Andre Agassi did. Well, actually, Sampras did marry an actress. Not surprisingly, Federer and Sampras think that sort of criticism is unwarranted. “That’s really searching for something to say. Will he make headlines with his antics like some past champions? No, but that’s not what he’s about. That’s why I like watching him,” Sampras said. “I know what that’s like. I wasn’t exciting enough. I didn’t do enough on the court or off the court.” During the U.S. Open, the mild-mannered Federer was seen in contrast to the gregarious Djokovic, he of the perfect impersonations of Maria Sharapova and Rafael Nadal right there in Arthur Ashe Stadium after a quarterfinal match. After Sunday’s victory, Federer said, “It’s good to have a character like him out there,” but he also noted that, “some guys weren’t happy” about the late-night lounge act. You almost got the feeling Federer’s thinking might be: “How about winning a Slam or two before you start goofing around?” Federer, meanwhile, does seem to be generating more buzz Stateside than in the past. He drew notice for his Man in Black outfits at the Open. He chatted Monday with Matt and Meredith on “Today,” then spent time with “Regis and Kelly.” He was greeted with applause when he walked into the Oscar de la Renta show at New York Fashion Week and sat next to Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour, a friend. Federer’s bid to catch Sampras resumes in January at the Australian Open, a tournament the Swiss star has won three of the last four years. Win again, and Federer will have 13 Slams come March 10, when he and Sampras meet in an exhibition at Madison Square Garden. They played for real only once, at Wimbledon in 2001, when Federer beat Sampras in five sets. At the time, Federer had yet to win a major; Sampras would go on to win one more. “I knew he was extremely talented then – a lot of power, didn’t have holes in his game,” Sampras said. “He figured it out kind of how I figured it out in my early 20s. Then, the way he started winning majors pretty much with ease, I just accepted that he was going to break my record.” Now 36, Sampras knows he can’t keep adding to his Slam count. Sure would feel nice to put the kid in his place for one day in the Big Apple, though. “I still serve well. Roger’s Roger. It’s going to hopefully be competitive tennis,” Sampras said. “We both wanted to do it because our names have been linked and will be linked for the next couple of years.”160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img