The ultimate battle
Sampras vs. Federer may happen, but let's set rules
Posted: Wednesday February 7, 2007 10:34AM; Updated: Wednesday February 7, 2007 11:07AM
Everyone contemplates how another Pete Sampras vs. Roger Federer match would run (including Sampras) except Federer! Everyone's intrigued, Sampras thinks he would hold his own. But when we talk about it, we discuss it as if Sampras were dead and the match is beyond the realm of possibility! He's only 35! Theoretically, this hypothetical can be made a reality very easily, no? Why hasn't anyone suggested they play an exhibition?
Good question and I think this match will, in fact, happen quite soon. The problem, if that's the right word, is that neither Fed nor Sampras are money-hogs, and if you start to look at this from their perspective, it becomes less appealing. If Federer wins, so what? He's beaten a man a decade his senior, who's been in repose since 2002, whose feet were recently impaled when he stepped on his son's train.
If Federer loses, it's worse. The WTA is getting hammered regarding Serena Williams' current success, indicting the quality of the rest of the field. Imagine: "Geez, this Federer cat is supposed to the best of all-time, and he can't even beat a guy who hasn't played an ATP match since '02?"
Meanwhile, if Sampras loses and looks silly doing so, it's still more dirt on the grave of his claims to being the G.O.A.T. If he wins, he's thrilled but he might face questions about surface, a premature retirement, etc.
The way I see this working: Pick a fast surface, maybe even grass. Announce the proceeds will go to charity. Make transparently clear in the build-up and in the match itself that it's an exhibition, more a duet than a duel. Maybe as a fun twist, Pete gets to play with Federer's new racket and Federer has to play with Pete's old-school Wilson. Federer wins but there are enough good points that the G.O.A.T. debate intensifies. Good for both guys. Good for tennis. Good for UNICEF.
You must hate Hall of Fame questions, but perhaps you'll have some fun about this one: What about inducting Serena and Venus Williams' parents, Richard Williams and Oracene Price?
Now those are two induction speeches I would pay to hear. Coaches tend to get overlooked by the hall but, hey, Richard and Oracene have overseen a combined 13 Grand Slam winners. What if we had a "coaches' wing" across from the "doubles specialists' wing" in Newport?
And as long as Robert brought it up, can we say once again how much we admire Price? For the all the parents-coaches who act as though their very salvation rests on the outcome of their kid's match, there's Oracene fighting to stay awake, completely uninterested in string tension and match results and petty tennis politics, concerned only that her kids are having fun. Her mantra: "All these people forget: It's only a game."
Plus you have to respect anyone incapable of gloss or spin (i.e. unwilling to lie.) Asked last week what the heck was up with Serena in '06, Oracene responded: "She'd been lazy and having fun in Los Angeles, doing the Hollywood thing. Maybe she might have tended to be more dedicated, but she needed to think about what she wanted." (Presumably, this makes Oracene a hater, too.)
Maybe it's because the Williams' saga has become second nature to those of who follow tennis. Maybe it's because some have been put off by the drama and the dubious withdrawals. Maybe it's the taint of Richard Williams -- the race-baiting, the alleged domestic violence, the bizarre behavior, etc. But I still say this family is the most underrated story in sports. Plot this tale out -- from Compton to Rodeo Drive, with Grand Slams, gate-crashing, disappearing acts, family tragedy, personal transformation, perseverance, etc. all mixed in -- and you have the classic epic.
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