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To commemorate Roger Federer’s 40th birthday on August 8, we’re looking back at four matches that define the grit, craft and determination that has propelled him to 20 Grand Slam singles titles and 310 weeks atop the ATP rankings.

First up: his breakout triumph over Pete Sampras at the 2001 Wimbledon Championships.

Federer made the most of a maiden Centre Court appearance with a scintillating win over Sampras.

Federer made the most of a maiden Centre Court appearance with a scintillating win over Sampras.

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THE MOMENT: Federer the man was born in Basel. Federer the legend came of age just shy of his 20th birthday, in his Centre Court debut at the All England Club. A former junior champion and avid serve-and-volleyer, he presented as an obvious heir apparent to his idol and then-reigning champion, Sampras, who was himself in the midst of a 32-match Wimbledon winning streak after winning the last four titles.

“Sometimes it was weird, I look on the other side of the net, I saw him—sometimes I was like, it's just true, kind of that this is happening now, that I'm playing against him,” Federer said of the surreal moment after the match. “But then it just goes away, this feeling. You think about your serve, where you’re going to go, then it’s like playing against maybe some other player, you know. But it’s obviously something special for me to play Pete.”

Federer came to the coin toss aiming to outduel Sampras with his own weapon—an 85-square inch Wilson Pro Staff closer in ancestry to a wooden racquet than any equipment employed today—and in similar Nike attire. The Swiss teenager was fresh off a maiden major quarterfinal at Roland Garros to earn his first Grand Slam seeding, but he needed five sets to defeat Xavier Malisse in the second round. Sampras, too, struggled after a decisive opener, but regained his dominance to make it to Manic Monday for a 10th straight year.

WATCH: One Minute Clinic: The Pete Sampras Snap

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It was a quintessential generational clash, the likes of which the game hadn’t seen in over a decade, when Sampras scored back-to-back wins over Ivan Lendl and John McEnroe en route to the first of his 14 major titles at the 1990 US Open. Going head-to-head for numerous scrimmages at net, Federer saved a set point in the first-set tiebreaker with a big serve Sampras disputed, and later broke down the American’s forehand to move ahead by two sets to one.

Saving break points late in the fifth set with audacious winners—first from the front, later from the back of the court—Federer set the tone in the final game with a vicious backhand return winner. Soon after, he secured the upset with another return winner, this time off the forehand side, to hand Sampras his first five-set defeat at Wimbledon.

The thrill of victory brought Federer to his knees for a now-iconic victory stance. and the pair exited Centre Court together with Sampras reminding his young successor to bow to the Royal Box.

The King was dead, 7-6 (7), 5-7, 6-4, 6-7 (2), 7-5; long live the King.

Into his first Wimbledon quarterfinal at 19, Federer won win the trophy two years later over Mark Philippoussis.

Into his first Wimbledon quarterfinal at 19, Federer won win the trophy two years later over Mark Philippoussis.

THE MEANING: The transition of power proved less seamless than Federer’s initial breakthrough, and he would ultimately exit the tournament in the following round to hometown favorite Tim Henman.

A sophomore slump would follow Federer through the subsequent 2002 season; a low point came at Wimbledon, when he fell in the first round to a young Mario Ancic. The third time would prove lucky for Federer, though, who at 20 played his first major final against Mark Philippoussis. After three sets and two tiebreaks, the Swiss had won Wimbledon; within five years he would surpass Sampras’ four consecutive titles and tie Boris Becker with five in 2007—an Open Era record.

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Sometimes it was weird, I look on the other side of the net, I saw him—sometimes I was like, it's just true, kind of that this is happening now, that I'm playing against him. Roger Federer

Though he ended 2003 ranked behind American Andy Roddick, Federer’s era had well and truly begun. In 2004 came an emphatic Wimbledon title defense, and a first victory at the Australian Open over a resurgent Marat Safin.

He would claim the No. 1 ranking in February and hold onto it for the next 237 weeks—another record as yet unbroken—and end the season at the US Open, but not before getting past another master of the old guard in New York…