Roger Federer is widely regarded as the ‘King of Grass’. The Swiss is statistically the most successful male tennis player on the surface, with a record eight Wimbledon titles, 10 Halle Open titles and a solitary one at Stuttgart.
Needless to say, both Federer and Sampras are absolute masters of grasscourt tennis. And now, the man who coached them both - Paul Annacone - has given his views about what separates the two legends on their favorite surface.
Roger Federer’s ability to rush his opponents is key, says Paul Annacone
During his coaching career, Paul Annacone has worked with Tim Henman, Pete Sampras, Roger Federer, Stan Wawrinka, Sloane Stephens and Taylor Fritz. Annacone guided Sampras to nine Grand Slam victories, while Roger Federer won two Slams under his tutelage.
Annacone has observed the games of Pete Sampras and Roger Federer from very close quarters, and knows a thing or two about the similarities and differences in their style of play. In a recent interview with ATPTour.com, the American spoke about the strengths of each player on grass.
“Pete’s is obviously his serve," Annacone said. "To me, he’s probably the best clutch server or serve-game holder that I’ve ever seen."
Roger Federer is also well-known for using his serve as a weapon on quicker surfaces. But Annacone pointed out that the Swiss' on-the-rise, first-strike attacks from the baseline are even more crucial to his success on grass.
"I think that Roger is a little bit different because his serve is unbelievable, but the rest of his grass-court game in terms of his ability to take the ball early and just rush you so well, that is very different from most people. I think that’s probably the difference. Roger rushes you from the back of the court by good court position and first-strike tennis. Pete overwhelms you with his serve.”
Roger Federer’s overall game is known to be best suited to grass, much like Sampras’. His serve is precise and tough to read, and he is also arguably the greatest volleyer in today’s game. That aids his attacking style of play even more, helping him close out points early even against top-notch baseliners like Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray.
Annacone also mentioned that both Federer and Sampras were supremely instinctive players, which helped them make the right decisions in the quickfire moments on grass.
“They were the two best grass-court players of their own eras and the grass courts played very differently in those times,” Annacone said. “Ultimately, they were incredibly confident and clear in big moments under pressure. In grasscourt tennis, when you have such little time to adjust, both players were really good at thinking on their feet, and they ultimately trusted their games in the big moments.”
Roger Federer began his love story with Wimbledon in the year 2001, when he beat the legendary Pete Sampras in the 4th round. This match was called ‘the changing of the guard’ by many tennis fans, as they believed that they were witnessing the next great grasscourter take over from the previous one.
One of the men to witness that match live was none other than Paul Annacone. Watching the Swiss play on grass is indeed a sight to behold, but his fans will have to wait for exactly a year to watch the maestro wield his racquet once more at SW19.