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Beyond the Baseline

Pete Sampras: Roger Federer the greatest but Rafael Nadal making case

Roger Federer and Pete Sampras Roger Federer (left) has three more Grand Slam titles than Pete Sampras. (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

Pete Sampras agrees with Andre Agassi: Rafael Nadal is making his case to be considered the greatest player of all time.

Sampras says that distinction still belongs to Roger Federer, though.

"It’s always been so clear to me that Roger is the greatest," Sampras told The Tennis Space. "But I would say that, with Rafa doing what he’s been doing, he has an argument to be in the conversation. Rafa isn’t done yet. He could win more majors. He’s got a winning record against everyone that he has played in his generation. He’s won the Davis Cup [with Spain], he’s won the Olympics [singles]."

Federer has a record 17 Grand Slam titles, three more than Sampras and four more than Nadal, who won the U.S. Open three weeks ago to push his total to 13 at age 27. Nadal is 21-10 against Federer, who has been more consistently dominant than his Spanish rival.

"I just think that Roger was so consistent and so good for so long," Sampras said. "But with Rafa, he’s sure to pass me on the list of most Grand Slam titles, and the question is whether he can take it further and go for that record.”

Federer, 32, is having his worst season in more than a decade. The Swiss is 35-12 with one title, and he failed to make a Slam final for the first time since 2002. Federer’s record streak of Grand Slam quarterfinals ended at 36 with a second-round loss to No. 116 Sergiy Stakhovsky at Wimbledon. Since then, Federer has lost twice more to players outside the top 50 and fallen to No. 22 Tommy Robredo in the fourth round of the U.S. Open.

Still, Sampras cautioned against dismissing Federer's chances of bouncing back and winning another major title.

"Roger is too great a player for people to be writing him off," Sampras told The Tennis Space. "He needs to find his confidence and to get back to his winning ways. That could take a set, or a tournament, to find his game. I don’t know what Roger’s goals are. I just know that he’s been a great champion and always will be. It’s just a matter of what he wants in his life, and for how much longer he wants to play.

"People wrote me off," said Sampras, who snapped a 33-tournament title drought when he won the 2002 U.S. Open at 31 in his final tournament. "But what the great players have is belief, and once Roger has that belief back, and starts playing well again, I think he can win another major. He will at least contend. Maybe he won’t be the big favorite that he was around 2005. I think that if he is playing well, and stays healthy, he is capable of winning another major.”

Earlier this week, Agassi called Federer "a class above" Sampras and said Nadal is staking his claim to the best-ever title.

“Nadal has an argument to make for the best of all time,” Agassi told HuffPost Live. “If Nadal is sitting at a table with Federer and Federer says, ‘I’m the best ever,’ my first question would be, ‘Well, then how come you didn’t beat me, because I beat you twice as many times? And, hey, by the way, you know I won everything, including a gold medal [in singles at the Olympics] and Davis Cup.’

“But at the same token, Federer has separated himself during a few years like nobody else. And he’s done it more consistently. To be able to make the argument for both guys playing in the same generation is pretty remarkable.”
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