The 26-year-old Swiss stylist was tested hard by his 36-year-old American foe before prevailing 6-3, 6-7 (4/7), 7-6 (8/6) before a crowd of 19,000 at Madison Square Garden. "I thought I had him there for a split second," Sampras said. "That's why he's the greatest player." Sampras, who retired from competitive tennis in September 2002 after winning his 14th Grand Slam title at the US Open, ran into trouble early, dropping his serve in the opening game.
Federer displayed brilliant court stewardship. He broke his foe one more time in the ninth game to run away with the first set in 29 minutes.
In the second set, Sampras levelled with some solid serving. Federer grabbed the momentum. The seven-time Wimbledon champion fell 0-2 in the ensuing set but staged a remarkable comeback, reeling off five-straight games to go up 5-2 and 30-all. But Federer regrouped and snatched the victory in the tie-breaker when a Sampras backhand sailed wide.
Federer edged Sampras two times in a three-city Asian exhibition tour last November with the American veteran coming on top in their last meeting in Macau, China.