We all knew that the end of Pete Sampras's long reign as the Wimbledon champion would be brought about either by an Andre Agassi or some other luminary or by an upset of startling proportions by one of the new young brigade. The astonishing thing about Roger Federer's five-set triumph over the master yesterday was that it came on the 19-year-old Swiss player's debut on Centre Court.
Not only that, but here was a player of enormous potential who was so relieved to have won his first ATP championship in Milan earlier this year that he said: "It took the pressure off me people were already starting to compare me a little bit to Anna Kournikova because I couldn't win a title.''
The folks back in Munchenstein, Switzerland, will be able to compare him more favourably in future as only the second man to have beaten the 29-year-old Sampras at Wimbledon in the past nine years. The other was the Dutchman Richard Krajicek, whose hot streak of form not only accounted for the Californian in the quarter-finals in 1996, but took him all the way to the title.
It is inevitable that when a great champion falls and none has been greater than Sampras, who has won seven titles at the All England club among a record 13 Grand Slam championships it is a cause of some sorrow. But in this case the conqueror is a former Wimbledon junior champion who in years to come could establish himself as a major figure in the sport.
Nor was it a fluke or an accident that Sampras should lose on a day when his fans may have been expecting him to complete the 100th grass court win of his career.
It would have been an accident had Sampras lost to the British wild card Barry Cowan in the second round. He eventually came through that test, 6-3 in the fifth. But from the day the tournament started Federer, the 15th seed, loomed as a possible danger to Sampras's hopes of matching Bjorn Borg's five Wimbledon titles in a row.
Federer had defeated two Belgians, Christophe Rochus and Xavier Malisse and the experienced Jonas Bjorkman, of Sweden. There was some jocularity when he won his first point against Sampras on the big stage with an ace, but Federer was to prove a tenacious opponent for the next three hours and 41 minutes, in winning 7-6, 5-7, 6-4, 6-7, 7-5.
Sampras had a set point in the first tie-break, and told the umpire after it had been whisked away that his opponent's serve had been "way out''. This did not deter the Swiss, who won the shoot-out 9-7.
Federer had six break points in the second set, only to let himself down at 5-6, 15-40 by over-hitting a volley. Federer redeemed himself in the third set, breaking Sampras for 5-4 and holding to take a two sets to one lead.
In the fourth set Federer showed a resilience when serving at 4-5, 0-30. He hit two aces and went on to hold for 5-5 en route to the tie-break. This time, however, Sampras's brilliant serving prevailed, and he took the shoot-out, 7-2.
So now it came down to who had the nerve and the energy to walk off the court and into the quarter-finals. Federer had to save two break points at 4-4, before cracking Sampras's serve in the 12th game, luring the Californian into netting a forehand half-volley for 15-40 and then hitting a glorious forehand service return down the line on the match point.
British supporters also suffered. Greg Rusedski was walloped by Goran Ivanisevic, 7-6, 6-4, 6-4, on No 1 court, and Tim Henman's match against Todd Martin on the Centre Court was suspended overnight because of bad light with the American leading, 7-6, 6-7, 6-4. The winner plays Federer.
Rusedski had unhappy memories of the court before he arrived for the match and Ivanisevic made sure that the British No 2's fortunes did not improve. The Croat, who only got into the tournament with a wild card, served magnificently even by his own high standards, delivering 22 aces and draining his opponent's confidence with other unreturnable serves.
Ivanisevic has now won all nine of his matches against Rusedski. Knowing the nature of the contests between such mighty servers, we were waiting for the inevitable tie-break to end a deadlock in the opening set. It arrived after 29 minutes, and Ivanisevic sprinted through it in four more, leaving Rusedski gasping by sweeping into a 5-0 lead. Rusedski retaliated with a mini-break on the first set point, at 2-6, and held serve twice before Ivanisevic converted his fourth set point with his ninth ace for 5-7.
After that we were waiting for Rusedski's big points, not realising that it had been and gone. The mini-break in the shoot-out was all there was: a potent return of a second serve that Ivanisevic volleyed into the net. Moreover, Ivanisevic revealed that he had been confident of victory after the second point of the tie-break, when he had returned Rusedski's serve with great dexterity.
The next big point came with Rusedski serving at 1-1, 30-40 in the second set. He double-faulted; too wary, perhaps, of Ivanisevic's potential for hitting winning returns. Rusedski's prospects of turning the match receded with every Ivanisevic serve that flashed by, and after the Croat lashed successive aces at the start of the sixth game, Rusedski handed his racket to a ball boy.
"I was very frustrated, turning right, turning left," Rusedski said. Ivanisevic realised that Rusedski was there for the taking. "That helped me,'' he said. "I knew that he was not returning my serves well and he was not picking my serve. I was mixing it up a lot."
Henman lost a tie-break, 7-3, in the opening set against Martin, and there were fears that the second set would also go against him after he was broken when serving at 5-4. Martin then had two set points at 6-5, but Henman forced a second tie-break, which he took, 7-5. In the third set, Martin broke for 2-1 and saved four break points from 0-40 in the fourth game.
Yesterday at Wimbledon
Defending champion Pete Sampras beaten by 19-year-old Swiss
Greg Rusedski is blown away by Goran Ivanisevic
Jennifer Capriati to meet Serena Williams in quarter-finalsReuse content