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"Novak Djokovic because of his return of serve" - Sampras on who would've been the toughest for him to beat

Novak Djokovic (L) and Pete Sampras
Novak Djokovic (L) and Pete Sampras
Namit Kumar
ANALYST
Modified 10 Nov 2020, 16:50 IST
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Novak Djokovic created history this week as he equaled Pete Sampras' long-standing record of most finishes as the year-end World No. 1 in the ATP rankings.

The Serb has achieved the feat six times, one more than his great rivals Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, as well as Jimmy Connors. The 33-year-old also became the oldest year-end World No. 1 in ATP history.

To celebrate his remarkable achievement as well as the 50th anniversary of the World Tour Finals, the ATP organized a chat between Novak Djokovic and Pete Sampras. The two greats talked about the mutual respect and admiration they have between themselves, and also which shot of each other they would have liked to have possessed.

I would take Novak Djokovic's return and speed: Pete Sampras

Novak Djokovic at the 2019 Rolex Paris Masters
Novak Djokovic at the 2019 Rolex Paris Masters

During the chat, which was hosted by former British No. 1 Tim Henman, Sampras expressed his awe for Novak Djokovic's return of serve - which is widely considered to be the best in history.

"I want that return of serve. Give me that return of serve!" exclaimed Sampras.
"Everyone asks me who would give me a hard time today, it would be Novak because of his return of serve. You know with Andre (Agassi), I would always get by him, but with Novak it would be tough to get anything by him because of his stretch. So I would take Novak's return and some of his speed," said the 14-time Grand Slam champion.

Novak Djokovic's return of serve is built on his incredible reflexes, anticipation and flexibility. The shot often earns him clean winners even against the biggest of servers.

The Serb, however, claimed that he would trade it for one of Sampras' iconic moves.

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"I wouldn't mind exchanging my return and speed for his (Sampras') serve and volley game. I would take his serve and volley against my return and speed, would be lovely to experience that kind of matchup," said Novak Djokovic.

Sampras, who achieved the feat in six consecutive years between 1993 and 1998, stressed on the mental and emotional effort it takes to retain the World No. 1 spot for so long.

"Novak I know this year is your 6th year, and congratulations. You have all my respect for being the best in the world," said Sampras. "It's a difficult achievement. It's one thing to get there and another thing to stay there."

Djokovic expressed his agreement, and pointed out that Sampras' feat of doing it in consecutive years was even more belief-defying.

"As Pete mentioned, it's a paramount achievement. The amount of dedication you have to undergo in your life not just on the court but off the court, it's tremendous," Djokovic said. "Six years in a row? I don't know how he did it but huge respect for that."
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2012 final against Roger Federer was my favorite World Tour Finals match: Novak Djokovic

Roger Federer (L) and Novak Djokovic at the 2012 ATP World Tour Finals - Day Eight
Roger Federer (L) and Novak Djokovic at the 2012 ATP World Tour Finals - Day Eight

Novak Djokovic has won the ATP Finals five times - a feat he once again shares with Pete Sampras. If the Serb is able to win next week, he would equal Roger Federer's record of six wins at the year-end event.

When asked about his most memorable matches at the event, Djokovic claimed there was one particular encounter that stood out.

"Winning against Roger in two very close sets in 2012," said the World No. 1 . "With a backhand down the line passing shot to end the point as well. Definitely one of the best shots for me to hit on such an occasion. That match is probably the one I remember the most."
"You know I have been fortunate enough to win all my finals in straight sets (laughs)," said the Serb. "I've been trying to pick one but the one against Roger in 2012 probably stands out."

The full video of the chat between Djokovic and Sampras can be watched below:

Published 10 Nov 2020, 16:01 IST
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