Federer next in Sampras firing line

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The Independent Online

Roger Federer had not won a match in his previous two trips to Wimbledon before arriving at the All England Club this year. Yesterday he sealed his third victory in a row by beating Jonas Bjorkman of Sweden in straight sets, 7-6, 6-3, 7-6, to earn himself a place in the fourth round.

And not just any place at that. The 19-year-old from Switzerland, who won the boys' title in SW19 three years ago, faces Pete Sampras, the seven-times winner whose own record here now stands at 56 wins in 57 matches since 1993. The defending champion progressed yesterday in straight sets, 6-4, 6-4, 7-5, past Sargis Sargsian of Armenia.

"To meet Pete is like a dream come true," Federer said. "He was one of my idols when I was a kid and to play him here is great."

Asked about Sampras's epic against Barry Cowan earlier in the week and how it might have hinted at frailty in the champion, Federer laughed. "Let's say I was happy when he had to go five sets," he said.

Asked what the tournament means to him, Federer said: "For me, Wimbledon is the biggest tournament of the year," he said. "It's got the most tradition, it was always the one I watched on television when I was a kid, and it's played on grass, which makes it special.

"Before a tournament, this is where you want to be, winning matches. My goal coming in was to reach the third round, so that's already achieved."

The win was achieved courtesy of successful tie-breaks in the first set (7-4) and third (7-2), and a straightforward middle set in which he was rarely troubled. For all the sun that SW19 has seen this week, even on the showery days, Federer said his victory had been achieved in spite of the weather, rather than because of it. "It was cold, windy and not easy," he said. "The conditions felt uncomfortable, but it was OK."

Three weeks ago on the clay of Roland Garros, the teenager put in his best Grand Slam performance to date, reaching the quarter-finals before falling to the eventual runner-up, Alex Corretja. This followed his first ATP title, which came in Milan in February, where he beat Goran Ivanisevic on the way to the final.

Of the Croat's win yesterday, which preceded his own, he said: "I'm very happy for Goran. He's one of the good guys." He added that he could identify with a player who raises his game at the world's most prestigious arena.

This year, Federer has also reached semi-finals in Marseilles and Rosmalen (the latter on grass), and the quarter-finals at two Masters series events, in Miami and Monte Carlo, where his losses to Pat Rafter and Sebastien Grosjean were respectable. He was not disgraced either on the grass at Halle last week, where he reached the last eight before falling to the eventual winner, Lleyton Hewitt.

Since the start of this year's grass-court season, Federer, the world No 15 and ranked No 15 here, has improved his career record on the surface from two wins and five losses to 10 wins and seven losses. He said a number of factors have contributed.

"I think my serve has improved, and I can now serve and volley," he said. "I'm getting used to the easier points, because it's quicker. I'm making the other guy move more, and I'm more athletic this year, so I'm getting to more balls. And once in a while I'm finding some really good volleys."

Among the other men through to the fourth round yesterday was the No 13 seed, Arnaud Clement.

The Frenchman progressed in four sets, 7-6, 6-7, 4-6, 4-6 at the expense of Raemon Sluiter of the Netherlands.

* In a Wimbledon first, the All England Club has invited young players from the Lawn Tennis Association's National Futures Programme to experience "playing" at Wimbledon.

In doing so, they will become the first-ever non-competitors themselves to play on Centre and No 1 Courts during the Championships. The 12 youngsters, aged between 10 and 13, will be putting on a demonstration of skills and exercises this morning, between 11.45am and 12.35pm, before play in the Championship begins at 1pm.