Appreciate Federer’s greatness – even Sampras does



By Howard Fendrich

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.

Don’t just take my word for it.

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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.

“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.

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    “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.”

    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. And you’re like, ‘Ooof, my God, I’m so far away.’ It’s just hard, and it wears on you,” Federer told a group of reporters Monday at a Times Square restaurant.

    Federer’s bid to catch Sampras resumes in January at the Australian Open, a tournament the Swiss star has won three of the past 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.

    Howard Fendrich covers tennis for The Associated Press. Write to him at