Big names, big games, big-time admiration


Stefanos Tsitsipas was just 2 years old when Roger Federer, then a ponytailed 19-year-old with balletic grace, famously announced himself to the tennis world at Wimbledon in 2001 by toppling seven-time champion Pete Sampras in the fourth round.

Now 36, Federer has since supplanted Sampras as Wimbledon's greatest male champion and appears poised to extend his record eight singles titles at the All England Club, gliding from one round to the next, yet to lose a set or his serve through four rounds of play.

So it's no wonder that Tsisipas, now 19 and one of the game's emerging stars, made a point of rewatching Federer's 2001 match against Sampras last week, the night before making his debut in Wimbledon's main draw. And he watched it again and again, taking note of Federer's quickness, net game, serve, variety of tactics and, above all, his composure.

"[He has] this very calm aura that he brings on the court - that even if everything goes wrong, it still seems like everything is perfect and it's okay," said the 6-foot-4 Tsitsipas. "When you watch Federer, it's like the best thing on television. Federer has such a good game for grass. . . . I was inspired. I wanted to play exactly like him and do the same results."

The top-ranked player in Greece (a career high No. 35), Tsitsipas is hardly alone in studying Federer for tips. So, too, is 19-year-old Denis Shapovalov of Canada.

After his first-round victory last week, the 25th-ranked Shapovalov credited his improvement on grass, in part, to the Swiss, explaining: "I've been trying to watch a lot of Roger - how he plays on the grass, how he comes in, chips, how he bothers players on the surface."

In a sense, it is one more bullet point that belongs on the list of Federer's contributions to tennis when he retires: 20 Grand Slam titles (and counting); eight Wimbledon titles (and counting); and unofficial coach and mentor to the next generation that both reveres and hopes to supplant him one day, as he did Sampras nearly two decades ago.

That won't happen here, at least not this year, for Tsitsipas or Shapovalov. But the tournament marked a step forward for each.

Tsitsipas, whose Greek father and Russian mother are both tennis coaches, had set a goal at the beginning of the year of reaching the fourth round of a Grand Slam tournament. 

And though his Wimbledon debut ended there Monday, when he ran into the big serve and arrhythmic game of the 6-foot-10 John Isner, Tsitsipas said he was pleased to have achieved his goal.

"I actually did get a bit emotional that I was in the last 16 of a Grand Slam that I have been dreaming of winning one day," Tsitsipas said. "I can only take positives out of this Grand Slam."

Shapovalov's Wimbledon ended in the second round.

Federer was first on Centre Court on Monday for what is known as Wimbledon's "Manic Monday," in which all 32 remaining singles players vie for a place in the quarterfinals.

It was tennis for the gluttonous: A feast. And for the fortunate 14,000 with Centre Court tickets, it served up back-to-back-to-back matches featuring Federer, Serena Williams and Rafael Nadal - the greatest of their generation and arguably tennis history, with 60 Grand Slam championships and 17 Wimbledon singles titles among them.

All three easily handled outclassed opponents. And none has lost a set in the tournament.

Federer, the tournament's top seed and defending champion, swept through the first set against Adrian Mannarino of France in just 16 minutes, allowing only five points in the six games. The chair umpire intoned "Game, Federer" so frequently, it began to sound like the refrain of a song.

Mannarino steadied himself in the second set to postpone the inevitable, but Federer pulled away for a 6-0, 7-5, 6-4 victory.

Clearly dejected, Mannarino said afterward that he wasn't rattled by the Centre Court spotlight or the size of the crowd. "The only different thing," he said, "is that it's Federer in front of me."

In many respects, the Swiss was playing against a standard he has set for himself on grass, which has become his natural habitat. He served 12 aces and no double faults. And he won the point 90 percent of the time he landed his first serve. Along with his 44 winners (to Mannarino's 18), all are hallmarks of a player in full command.

Federer seemed pleased that his opponent raised his level in the second set after a first set he described as "almost too easy." It forced him to work a bit harder to break serve and create opportunities to close the match with an efficiency that should serve him well in future rounds.

Williams, who is seeking an eighth Wimbledon title, was even more efficient, needing 62 minutes to dispatch the 120th-ranked Evgeniya Rodina, 6-2, 6-2.

"I feel like I'm getting to where I want to be," said Williams, 36, who's competing in just her fourth tournament since she returned from a 13-month maternity leave.

Nadal, who plays at a slower, more deliberate pace, had no trouble with 93rd-ranked Jiri Vesely either, dismissing him, 6-3, 6-3, 6-4, in less than two hours.


Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Sports

Our 10th annual Top 25 countdown: No. 13 Notre Dame just keeps on winning, churning out draft picks
Our 10th annual Top 25 countdown: No. 13 Notre Dame just keeps on winning, churning out draft picks

Sure, it’s July. But it’s never too early to talk college football. Here’s your daily fix — our annual countdown of the preseason Top 25, as selected by the American-Statesman sports staff. Last year’s eventual CFP semifinalists were ranked Nos. 1, 5, 8 and 14 on our 2017 list. Our Top 25 &mdash...
The forgotten figure behind Daytona Speedway
The forgotten figure behind Daytona Speedway

By 1949, Bill France Sr. could tell that the famous stock-car races on the hard-packed sands of Daytona Beach, Florida, would soon be impractical. He had moved down from Washington 14 years earlier and founded NASCAR in 1948. He knew the development of hotels on lucrative oceanside property north of Daytona Beach would eventually encroach on the race...
GW's Wantanabe aims to be Japan's second NBA player
GW's Wantanabe aims to be Japan's second NBA player

A few hours before Yuta Watanabe's mother and father are set to fly back to Japan, he wades through the crowds in the Bellagio Hotel and Casino and takes a seat inside a restaurant. There's no game today, but he's wearing a Brooklyn Nets black-and-white warmup shirt even though his teammates have been spotted walking around the lobby in hipster clothes...
Home of the 2022 World Cup prepares for its turn in the spotlight
Home of the 2022 World Cup prepares for its turn in the spotlight

The roads here can be impervious to GPS navigation. Drive around the city, and the green line on the screen will start interlacing into useless shapes. The robot voice will begin to contradict itself. Qatar has been this way, to an extent, for more than two decades, since a gas boom transformed the nation’s fortunes. It has grown denser, taller...
Ben Olsen is constant in DC United's season of change
Ben Olsen is constant in DC United's season of change

Not long after D.C. United finished a recent practice and the Wayne Rooney-induced media circus left the premises, a few team staffers remained. In the summer heat, they hopped into cars to return to team offices less than a mile from the training field.  Coach Ben Olsen, though, jogged back to RFK Stadium, the place that has been the club's home...
More Stories