A jetlagged Pete Sampras paid a surprise first visit to Wimbledon for seven years on Sunday to watch Roger Federer overtake his record for grand slam wins, and then hailed the Swiss as the game's best-ever player.
Sampras, returning to the club where he won seven titles in a decorated career, arrived unannounced from the U.S. hours before the final showdown and made his unexpected entrance to the club as Federer and American Andy Roddick were knocking up.
Federer's exhausting five-set victory game him his 15th grand slam title, against 14 for Sampras, and the American said the Swiss had settled the debate about the game's greatest.
"The critics say (Rod) Laver, and (Rafa) Nadal beat him a few times in majors, but he's won all the majors, he's going to win a few more here, so in my book he is.
"Roger's a friend, he's a great player, he's a good guy. He's got 15 now, he can get 17 or 18 majors. If he just keeps it going and stays healthy, he could go to 18, 19, actually.
"The guy's a legend and now he's an icon. He's got 15 majors, that's a lot of majors, that's a lot of work. He's a credit to the game."
Sampras entered the Royal Box with Roddick leading 2-1 in the opening set, waved to acknowledge the crowd's applause and took his place in the front row, a few seats away from other former champions Bjorn Borg and Laver.
Over four breathless hours later, Federer had secured his place at the top of the slams pile and made certain of returning to the world number one spot.
"He's a great guy, he's humble, which I like," Sampras said. "He's sort of effortless, he doesn't seem like he's working that hard out there.
"He plays at that level so easily, he serves big, he's got a great forehand, his backhand's solid, he's got everything and he's got the belief."
Sampras, sporting a grey suit, light blue shirt and tie, was joined by his wife Bridgette Wilson.
They were welcomed by officials at the players' entrance at the All England Club and he was also greeted by women's champion Serena Williams.
Sampras won the Wimbledon title three straight years from 1993 before winning it four times in a row from 1997.
He had not returned to the club since his second-round exit against unseeded Swiss George Bastl on Court Two seven years ago.
The American retired after winning his 14th grand slam title at the 2002 U.S. Open.