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.
While the men get Tuesday off at Wimbledon, the women return for their quarterfinals. Williams path to Saturday’s championship, and another Grand Slam title, looks more certain with every round.
While Williams boasts 23 major championships, the remaining seven women have combined for just three: Angelique Kerber has won two (2016 Australian Open and 2016 U.S. Open) and Jelena Ostapenko one (2017 French Open). Both Kerber and Ostapenko are in the top half of the draw, while Williams is in the bottom half.