When it comes to Tennis rivalries, there are not many players who have dominated the likes of Pete Sampras, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. In his entire 14-year playing career, Sampras rarely struggled against his opponents. In the era of the Big Three, Federer is third-best when it comes to Nadal and Djokovic. Nadal, on the other hand, is second best only to Djokovic. There are some players whom Nadal has suffered against, in particular Nikolay Davydenko. Djokovic has never won against Dustin Brown in two encounters. Apart from Djokovic and Nadal, Federer has often struggled against Dominic Thiem.
Sampras, on the other hand, struggled against very few players. Richard Krajicek, Lleyton Hewitt, Michael Stich, Marat Safin, Andy Roddick, Max Mirnyi, Derek Rostagno and Paul Haarhuis are some of the few who have a better head-to-head record against Sampras. But, there is one player who has dominated both Pete Sampras and Roger Federer. The fact that he conquered Sampras at his peak and also thrashed a young Federer in what was his ‘worst loss ever’ makes his story very intriguing. Bruguera has a 3-2 head-to-head record against Sampras and has beaten Federer in their only encounter in 2000. Here is the story of Sergi Bruguera and his domination of both Sampras and Federer.
Before the emergence of Nadal as the Emperor of Clay, Sergi Bruguera was one of the best players on the circuit when it came to the surface. Bruguera was Spain’s national junior champion in 1987. He turned professional in 1988. In his first full year in 1989, he won the Cairo Challenger title as a qualifier and reached the semifinals in Rome. He reached the fourth round in the French Open in 1989 and finished the year ranked world No. 26. For his performance, he was named ATP’s newcomer of the year.
In the 90s, Bruguera dominated the clay-court circuit in both singles and doubles. His performances in Hamburg, Gstaad, Florence, Geneva, Estoril, Barcelona and Monte Carlo made him a force to be reckoned with. In the 1993 French Open, Sergi Bruguera was in fine form. In the second round, he achieved a rare feat. Bruguera trounced Thierry Champion 6-0,6-0,6-0 in what was termed the triple bagel.
This was only the fifth time in the history of the Open Era that there was a triple bagel in Tennis. Sergi Bruguera’s triple bagel against Champion has still not been replicated 28 years on.
In the quarterfinal, he met World No.1 Pete Sampras in what was their second encounter. Their first match in the World Team Cup in Germany saw Bruguera defeat Sampras in two straight sets. In the quarterfinal, Bruguera put on a great display and although Sampras fought hard, it was not enough.
Bruguera defeated Sampras 6-3, 4-6, 6-1, 6-4 to enter the semifinals. After beating Andriy Medvedev in the semis, Bruguera encountered world number two Jim Courier in the final. In a grueling five-set match that lasted four hours, Bruguera defeated Courier 6-4, 2-6, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3. Bruguera became the first person to beat both the World No.1 and World No.2 in the same tournament to win the title. Bruguera had become the first Spanish champion in 21 years and he continued to dominate
In 1994, Bruguera dropped only two sets in reaching his second French Open title. One of the sets that he lost was to Courier. In a repeat of the 1993 final, this time both met in the semis and Bruguera emerged triumphant again. Bruguera’s four-set win set-up a clash against fellow Spaniard Alberto Berasategui. In a tense final, Bruguera won in four tight sets to win his second consecutive French Open title.
After the highs of the French Open and his silver medal in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, Bruguera’s career faded away. His head-to-head record against Sampras became even after Sampras had won in Germany and finally at the French Open in 1996. However, Bruguera had still one trick up his sleeve.
In the 1997 ATP Masters clash in Miami, Bruguera finally sealed his positive head-to-head record against Sampras as he defeated him on Hard Courts for the first time. Bruguera won 5-7, 7-6 (2), 6-4 to ensure he ended his career with a 3-2 winning margin against the most dominant player in that era.
But, it was his match against Federer that showed Bruguera’s class. In the fourth round match in Barcelona in 2000, Bruguera defeated Federer 6-1, 6-1. It was the worst loss in Federer’s career at that time. If one expanded his record to other players in that era, Bruguera had an even record of 2-2 against German legend Boris Becker. The Spaniard dominated Becker on clay but Becker got the better of him on Carpet. Bruguera struggled against Andre Agassi, losing 2-7 to him. Although, if one has to argue in Bruguera’s favour, he won both matches on clay.
After retirement, Bruguera featured in a couple of TV shows in Spain and also became a coach. But, no one will ever take away his record of dominating both Federer and Sampras. That makes Bruguera a truly unique player.