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TBT, 2001: Andy Roddick goes toe-to-toe with Pete Sampras in Miami
On this day 20 years ago, the future arrived—boldly and powerfully—in the form of a highly driven American teenager.
Published Mar 25, 2021
Sometimes the future arrives slowly, incremental occurrences eventually adding up to major change.
But on this day at the Miami Open 20 years ago, change was swift and assertive. The future didn’t just subtly surface. It arrived, boldly and powerfully, in the form of a highly driven American teenager.
Less than a year earlier, he’d been a 17-year-old hitting partner for the Davis Cup team, absorbing one salvo after another from the powerful Andre Agassi. Roddick went on that year to become the No. 1 junior in the world.
Once his pro career began in full, by March 2001, Roddick was ranked 119 in the world.
In Miami, he earned wins over Harel Levy and former world number one Marcelo Rios. Roddick’s third round opponent was the man who’d dominated the ‘90s, Pete Sampras.
A potential title for this meeting: “Clash of the Big Serves.”
Sampras’ delivery had made headlines for a decade. Roddick, of course, was just beginning. But, feeling the confidence of youth, all through the first set, Roddick didn’t merely equal Sampras. He went even faster, frequently striking serves in excess of 130 m.p.h. Serving at 3-4, 40-love, Roddick rocketed a 136 m.p.h. serve into Sampras’ body that skipped off his frame and nicked his face.
The first set reached six games all, the tiebreaker a familiar spot for a gunslinger as seasoned as Sampras. But in this instance, Roddick took control early and never let up, winning it 7-1.
As the second set got underway, Roddick continued to play fearless tennis. “He was just swinging away and having fun,” said Sampras.
With Roddick serving at 5-3, 40-love, Sampras netted a backhand. As Roddick arrived at the net to shake Sampras’ hand, he took off his hat as a sign of respect to his defeated elder. It was a flawless performance. Over the course of 78 rapid-fire minutes, Roddick had struck 27 winners, only five unforced errors and earned his first win over a Top 10 player.
A year earlier in Miami, Roddick had been handily beaten in the second round by Agassi. Reflecting on that following the Sampras match, he said, “I was basically going to the court to take my beating and then leave. This year, I thought if I played well and stuck around, I could get some opportunities. And I did.”
"The way he played today, the future of American tennis definitely looks good," Sampras said. "He really is the future, the beginning of a new American breed. He is young. He is just going to get better and better."
Roddick went on to reach the quarterfinals, losing to world No. 7, Lleyton Hewitt.
Unquestionably, 2001 marked the beginning of Roddick’s ascent and what proved a Hall of Fame career. By the end of the year, he’d won his first three ATP singles titles, advanced to the quarters of the US Open, made a Davis Cup debut, and was ranked No. 14 in the world.