This year marks the 50th anniversary of TENNIS Magazine's founding in 1965. To commemorate the occasion, we'll look back each Thursday at one of the 50 moments that have defined the last half-century in our sport.
When Pete Sampras won his 14th and final major title at the 2002 U.S. Open, and then announced his retirement from the sport in August 2003 at age 32, an era in men’s tennis had obviously come to an end. What was less obvious, to all but the most prescient prognosticators, was that a new one had already begun the previous month.
That July, Roger Federer had won his first Grand Slam title, at Wimbledon. While he was only 21, his breakthrough still felt like a long time coming to many tennis observers. Two years earlier, Federer had declared himself as a possible successor to Sampras when he stunned the seven-time Wimbledon champion in a five-set, fourth-round clash for the ages, and of the ages, on Centre Court.
On that day in 2001, Federer, a former world No. 1 junior with a smooth all-court game and a throwback one-handed backhand, had looked the part of a future champion. But he hadn’t looked that way often in the two years since. In 2002, Federer lost in the first round at Wimbledon, and in ’03 he came to the All England Club after his second-straight opening-round defeat at the French Open. He still hadn’t been past the quarterfinals at any major. Was his win over Sampras a fluke? Was the Swiss a big-match flake? Federer himself said he had no explanation for his series of dismally early Grand Slam defeats.
The turnaround would come not at Wimbledon itself, but at one of the grass-court tune-up events, in Halle, Germany, where Federer found his form and won the title. Still, the win wasn’t enough to make him the favorite at the Big W among the game’s cognoscenti. That honor went to another up-and-comer, 20-year-old Andy Roddick.