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
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.”