Wimbledon memories: Roger Federer’s breakthrough… and it is not his win against Pete Sampras in 2001

Kevin Palmer
Roger Federer with 2017 Wimbledon trophy

When Roger Federer’s Wimbledon story is told it generally starts with his breakthrough win against Centre Court king Pete Sampras in 2001, yet a golden moment three years earlier might just have been the spark that ignited his greatness.

In the summer of 1998, Federer had stood in the Royal Box on Centre Court to be presented with his first trophy at the All England Club, with the 16-year-old Swiss protégé crowned as Boys Singles Champions after a straight-sets win in the final against Georgian opponent Irakli Labadze. 

The match was played on the now-demolished No.2 Court at Wimbledon that was famous for being a stage for giant killings that were a sign that the beginning of the end was nigh for a fallen star of yesteryear.

Yet this was a day when the world witnessed the birth of a champion in waiting, with the hype that had already built up around Federer boosted by his immaculate performance as he won the junior title at Wimbledon without dropping a set.

Roger Federer Wimbledon 1998

Federer’s genius was still forming, but he reflected on his golden summer with real fondness when quizzed by the media about his first experience at Wimbledon last year.

“I remember so much about that junior title,” he said. “I always wanted to be at Wimbledon, that was my dream. Then suddenly I’m there on the grass for the first time and I remember asking the umpire if the net was too high. It’s looked like a volleyball net to me, but that must be because I was too nervous.

“It was such a big deal for me to go up to the Royal Box and get the trophy on Centre Court. It was like someone else was there in some ways because it was the dream, but the tournament inspired me, for sure. 

“Everything was so perfect, I had never seen anything like it. You want to get to Wimbledon and you want it to be amazing, but somethings expectations are not always met. This time it was and I guess you can say my love affair at Wimbledon started that year.”

His adoring public have admired Federer’s calm and regal appearance on court during his professional career, yet it is interesting to note that Federer’s early days on court were blighted by temper tantrums that often saw his parents threaten to take his rackets away from him as a punishment. 

“They are the best parents in the world and they gave me advice when I didn’t know how to control my emotions,” he added. “I used to throw my racket a lot and when I was 16, I was even chased off court because of it at one point.

“At 17, my family decided that I had to go to a psychologist because I was so angry on the court. From that moment on, my growth has been constant. Every time I am under pressure, I think of the hard work I have done to get where I am now.”

Twenty Grand Slam titles later, the reformed hot-head from Basel is respected as the greatest ambassador tennis has ever seen.

His evolution has been a joy to behold.

Follow Kevin Palmer on Twitter @RealKevinPalmer

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