Pete Sampras said Roger Federer is more dominant than he ever was and predicted the Swiss No. 1 will surpass his record of 14 Grand Slam titles, as the two tennis greats arrived in the Chinese gambling enclave of Macau on Friday for the last of their three-match Asian exhibition series.
Still, Sampras isn't prepared to give up his place in history just yet.
Asked how a Sampras in his prime would fare against Federer, the 36-year-old American said it wasn't a fair comparison. "For me, in my prime, I felt unbeatable. In Roger's days, he's unbeatable. It's really hard to put one guy over the other. Having said that, I think Roger is dominating the game much more than I ever did. I think he's going to go on and past 14 and win 16, 17, 18 majors," Sampras said at a news conference, adding that he thought Federer would remain No. 1 a "very, very long time." "I think he's going to break all records," he said. Federer has won 12 Grand Slams titles so far _ two short of Sampras' 14.
Sampras, who retired in 2002 after winning the U.S. Open, lost the first two matches of the exhibition series in straight sets. Their only previous meeting was in the fourth round of Wimbledon in 2001, when Federer won in five sets.
Sampras poked fun at his losses _ 6-4, 6-3 in Seoul Tuesday and 7-6 (6), 7-6 (5) in Kuala Lumpur on Thursday _ urging Federer to "throw me a bone" in their final matchup on Saturday at the Venetian Macao arena and comparing taking a set off the Swiss star to an eighth Wimbledon title.
When Federer, fresh from winning the Masters Cup in Shanghai last week, said Sampras "has a chance" on Saturday, the American sheepishly repeated, "just a chance."
However, Federer, 26, was respectful toward the elder Sampras, whose playing style and career resemble his. Both serve and volley well and both play with single-handed backhands. Both players have dominated Wimbledon _ Sampras has won seven times and Federer five. And both have struggled to win on clay at the French Open _ the only Grand Slam to elude them both.
"Playing against Pete is obviously a big honor because I grew up idolizing Pete, his game, the way he pulled off shots on big points, his beautiful technique, the way he ran on court. Everything is perfect," Federer said.
He added that he enjoyed spending time with Sampras during the Asian tour and hearing him share the ups and downs of his career. "It's been a great insight for me," he said. The Swiss player was asked repeatedly about his missing French trophy.
When a Chinese TV reporter asked if he would prefer a gold medal at the Beijing Olympics or the French title next year, Federer said it was a tough call but Sampras interjected, "I'd take the French."