Pete Sampras had Roger Federer right where he wanted him – on the ropes. The former world No. 1 was leading the current No. 1 by a score of 5-2 in the third set of an exhibition match last night at Madison Square Garden. But then reality hit and Federer rallied to pull out a 6-3, 6-7, 7-6 victory before an enthusiastic crowd of 19,690. Sampras showed flashes of the serve-and-volley style that carried him to a record six straight years ranked No. 1. And Federer displayed the all-court game that’s enabled him to put a stranglehold on the No. 1 ranking for 215 consecutive weeks. It was Pistol Pete versus The Federer Express. The Past versus The Present. “Good versus Evil,” as Sampras joked before the match. Sampras was dressed in traditional white, Federer in black. It was a magnificent display of skill and talent. Monster forehands, booming serves, classic one-handed backhands, deft volleys. Two of the smoothest and arguably best players to ever play the game. But as far as settling who might be the better of the two, forget about it. Sampras, lacking match play, is now 36 years old and in his sixth year of retirement. Federer, a decade younger, is in the midst of perhaps the worst start of his career. The Swiss Maestro arrived in New York coming off an unheard of two-straight losses in tournament play and is just regaining his health after a bout with mononucleosis earlier in the year. So although the tennis was good, it wasn’t their best. Federer improved to 3-1 in exhibitions against the American. The two played three times in Asia in November. Federer won the first match 6-4, 6-3 in Seoul, the second 7-6, 7-6 in Kuala Lumpur, while Sampras won the third 7-6, 6-4 in Macau. Sampras fully expects Federer to break his career record of 14 Grand Slam singles championships, perhaps running the total to 18 or 19. Federer is stalled at 12 now, after losing to Novak Djokovic in the semifinals of the Australian Open in January. Andy Murray added to Federer’s woes last week by ousting the Swiss star in the first round at Dubai. “Roger’s got more important things to worry about than playing me,” said Sampras afterward. Like getting his strength and swagger back and winning some tournaments.
Federer Squeaks by Sampras at MSG
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