Nadal can Catch Fed­erer: Sam­pras The 14-time Grand Slam cham­pion also hopes that Djokovic and Mur­ray will re­turn from in­jury to chal­lenge for top spots again

The Economic Times - - Sports: The Great Games - Euan Reedie

Novak Djokovic and Andy Mur­ray can still chal­lenge the Rafael Nadal-Roger Fed­erer du­op­oly when they re­turn said 14-time Grand Slam cham­pion Pete Sam­pras. Both are will miss the rest of the year.

Sam­pras also be­lieves Rafael Nadal, 31, – who claimed his 16th Grand Slam at the US Open last week­end — “has a pretty good shot” of sur­pass­ing Fed­erer’s record of 19 ma­jors if he matches the 36-year-old’s stun­ning longevity.

Djokovic an­nounced in July that he would miss the rest of 2017 due to the in­jury, while Mur­ray said he was “most likely” to do like­wise af­ter with­draw­ing from the US Open ear­lier this month. “Oh yeah, I think if you take that much time off, they’re go­ing to be very ea­ger and de­ter­mined (to suc­ceed),” the 46-yearold said in an exclusive in­ter­view. “I’m sure Novak and Andy are go­ing to be right in the mix next year and com­pete for ma­jors.”

Cur­rently, how­ever, the main story dom­i­nat­ing men’s ten­nis is who will pre­vail in Nadal and Fed­erer’s epic joust for supremacy.

“Can Rafa beat Roger’s record? Ba­si­cally it’s up to Rafa and how much he wants to play and how much he loves the game,” said Sam­pras, who sits third on the men’s all-time Grand Slam win­ners’ list be­hind Nadal and Fed­erer. “If he said: ‘Hey guys, I’m gonna play un­til I’m at least 35’, I’d say he’s got a pretty good shot at do­ing it.

“If you do the maths, he’s go­ing to have many chances to win ma­jors and he has the heart and mind to con­tinue win­ning them. He will al­ways be a favourite at the French and while Wim­ble­don will be a stress, at the other two (Slams) he’s al­ways go­ing to be in the top-two favourites. It re­ally is en­tirely is up to him if he wants to play into his mid-30s like Roger.”

Sam­pras main­tains Fed­erer’s own rag­ing com­pet­i­tive fires are not di­min­ish­ing, de­spite the world No 2 be­ing well be­low par at Flush­ing Mead­ows. The Swiss lost in the quar­ter-fi­nals af­ter strug­gling with a back in­jury — and so was de­nied a fever­ishly an­tic­i­pated first US Open meet­ing with Nadal in the last four.

But Sam­pras added: “There’s the age gap (be­tween him and Nadal). Five years is quite a bit in ten­nis. It just de­pends on how much longer Roger wants to go on, if he’s en­joy­ing it and how his body holds up. I just think it’s great for the sport to see the (re­vival) of their ri­valry. It’s quite re­mark­able.”

While he con­tin­ues to marvel at ten­nis’s es­tab­lished stars, Sam­pras is also hugely im­pressed by a trio of young pre­tenders: Alexan­der Zverev, De­nis Shapo­valov and Do­minic Thiem. He re­serves par­tic­u­lar praise for the 18-year-old Cana­dian, Shapo­valov, who beat Nadal in Mon­treal last month. “I re­ally like his at­ti­tude. He’s got a lot of en­ergy out there, has a big game and has got all the shots.” He in­sists Shapo­valov and the 20-year-old Ger­man Zverev will be­come the top-two play­ers in the world — but only once the old or­der re­tire.

As for his own fu­ture, he re­it­er­ated his longstated con­vic­tion that he will not fol­low other past masters such as Mur­ray’s men­tor Ivan Lendl into coach­ing.

Help­ing out some­one “here and there” in his na­tiveLosAn­ge­leswoul­dap­peal­toSam­pras;he would be “flat­tered” to be ap­proached by some­one like the Aus­tralian mav­er­ick Nick Kyr­gios, an­other young tal­ent he greatly ad­mires.

But trav­el­ling reg­u­larly as a coach “isn’t some­thing I’m pas­sion­ate about” given his supreme de­vo­tion to his fam­ily. Sam­pras’s own pas­sion for play­ing the game he graced be­tween 1988 and 2002 may have waned, but he has sum­moned up the mo­ti­va­tion to re­turn to the court this week­end. He joins James Blake, Venus Wil­liams and Martina Hingis at The Green­brier Cham­pi­ons Ten­nis Clas­sic ex­hi­bi­tion in West Vir­ginia. “I might be a bit rusty, but I’ve been hit­ting the ball pretty well.”

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