Wondering what the Tournament of Champions is, and how we got here? Read more about our 50th Anniversary Celebration and get caught up on all the matches so far.

The Maestro vs. Pistol Pete. Elegance vs. effectiveness. The first great player of the 21st century vs. the last great player of the 20th. The start of the power-baseline era vs. the swan song of the serve and volley. Federer vs. Sampras isn’t the only way our Tournament of Champions could have ended, but it makes for a fitting finale.

As a young player, Federer idolized the champions of the 1980s and 1990s, attackers like Boris Becker, Stefan Edberg, and Sampras, who used their one-handed backhands to move forward whenever they could. Federer went so far as to swing the same Wilson Pro Staff that Sampras did, and why not? Sampras’ weapon of choice helped him win 14 Grand Slam titles and top the ATP rankings for 286 weeks. Both of those marks were men’s records at the time, and they seemed destined to stand for years—until Sampras’ No. 1 Swiss fan, Federer, broke them both less than a decade later.

Sampras and Federer played just once, at Wimbledon in 2001, when Sampras was nearly 30 and declining, and Federer was nearly 20 and ascending. That year Wimbledon changed to a hardier all-rye grass, one that produced a higher bounce and ushered in an era of baseline dominance on Centre Court. Federer himself would join the retreating wave and win most of his titles there from the backcourt. But in 2001 he beat Sampras at his own net-rushing game, in a classic five-setter. Their handshake that day was a passing of the torch.

Men's Final: (1) Roger Federer vs. (3) Pete Sampras

Men's Final: (1) Roger Federer vs. (3) Pete Sampras

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How would Sampras and Federer have matched up in their primes, on clay, hard, and grass courts? Federer has a more complete and consistent game across all surfaces; his backhand is stronger and steadier, his forehand more versatile, he’s a better defender, a more natural mover on clay, and he has more endurance. As Paul Annacone, who coached both men, says of Federer, “In an era of offensive baseliners, people don’t realize how effective his slice backhand can be. It sets up his forehand.”

Sampras, while he wasn’t as well-rounded or stylish, had a weapons-based style that was designed to do nothing more or less than win. Sampras won with his serve; he may have had the most effective first and second deliveries in the game’s history. He backed them up with a solidly athletic net game and a brilliant running forehand that he had a habit of uncorking at the crucial moment. With his serve, Sampras could afford to wait to launch that forehand strike; one break per set was usually enough.

“People don’t talk that much about him finishing No. 1 six years in a row,” Annacone says of Sampras. “He was so committed to his style of play, that he was able to go for his second serve and do it with confidence. That mentality led to his ability to execute.”

“I’m really torn on this one,” Mayotte says of the final. “It goes the distance for sure.”

Federer, a French Open champion and four-time runner-up, would be favored on clay over Sampras, who reached the semis in Paris just once. “Roger has been the second best in the world on clay during his time,” Patrick McEnroe says. “He has superior mobility and can play within himself in rallies.”

But not much would separate them on hard courts and grass. While Federer owns more Grand Slam titles, Sampras’ winning percentage in Grand Slam finals was comparable—14-4 to 17-8. Losing the first set in this match would, Steve Flink believes, bring out his champion’s instinct: “His back is to the wall; he has no alternative but to win this second set. These are circumstances that bring out the best in Sampras.”

Men's Final: (1) Roger Federer vs. (3) Pete Sampras

Men's Final: (1) Roger Federer vs. (3) Pete Sampras

The answer as to who would win the last two sets probably lies on Sampras’s strings. He had his inconsistencies and bad days, but when he was on his game, no one has ever been better at keeping his opponents from playing theirs. Sampras’ straight-set blitz of his greatest rival, Andre Agassi, in the 1999 Wimbledon final stands as one of the dominant big-stage performances in the game’s history. “Agassi was brilliant,” London Times sportswriter Simon Barnes wrote, “and he was comprehensively beaten.”

Federer is the smoother man with a racquet, but even he would have trouble winning if the racquet was taken out of his hands.

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Men's Final: (1) Roger Federer vs. (3) Pete Sampras

Men's Final: (1) Roger Federer vs. (3) Pete Sampras