Andy Murray Rules the Head, But Roger Federer Thrills the Heart

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Andy Murray Rules the Head, But Roger Federer Thrills the Heart
Mark Dadswell/Getty Images

Well it all comes down to this: the time to nail colors to the mast; the moment to cast the vote; the decision on who will carry the favors.

It’s the young Scottish pretender against the Swiss king.

The player who has delighted the tennis-loving Australians versus the man who stole their hearts years ago.

It’s guts against grace, dour against debonair, intense against incisive, broadsword against foil.

It’s head versus heart, dispassionate blue against passionate red.

A race between steeplechaser and pure-blood Arab.


Andy the steeplechaser

A desire, a work ethic, a self-belief that pronounced years ago that Fred Perry could cease to turn in his grave.

The bearer of British hopes, their first men’s champion—in all but name—after more than seven decades in the tennis wilderness.

The steeplechaser matures slowly, builds strength gradually, prepares for major obstacles along the way.

In 2005, Andy made the biggest jump in the year’s rankings: up 449 places to No. 65. In 2006, he finished inside the top 20 and captured his first ATP title.

In 2007, he broke into the top 10, though slipped back to 11 after injury.

In 2008, he reached the quarterfinals at Wimbledon, the final of the U.S. Open, and was the first British player to win five titles in a year in the Open era.

He ended 2009 with a Tour-best six titles and as world No. 4.

Now he bristles with muscle, bounces like a charger ready for battle.


Roger the pure-blood

A desire, a work ethic, a self-belief that has garnered him more tilts at titles and more kudos than any tennis player this millennium.

Records tumbled, foes dismissed with easy ruthlessness.

The blood of the pure Arab horse courses through the veins of every thoroughbred, which in turn grow bigger, faster, and more skilled. Thus the Federer DNA has made the race harder to run.   

In 1999, Roger was the youngest player in the top 100.

In 2001, he won his first ATP title, reached the quarterfinals at Roland Garros and beat Sampras at Wimbledon.

In 2003 he won seven ATP titles in nine finals, the Wimbledon title, and the Masters Cup, and was No. 2 in the world.

He went on to hold the top ranking for 237 consecutive weeks, win 15 Grand Slams, reach 23 consecutive semis in Slams—and 18 of the last 19 finals—and win a Slam a year for seven consecutive years.

Now he glides into another decade, slim and strong, lithe and fluid, ready for battle.


Andy’s burden

He is not endowed with natural bonhomie. He does not have a silken tongue. In action, he has a glare in the eye, a sneer in the expression, a thickness to the calves, a droop in the shoulders.

He has learned from rough experience about the weight of expectation and the fickleness of fame.

After a spirited win over Richard Gasquet at Wimbledon in 2008, he was quickly cut down to size in the press after losing in straight-sets to Rafael Nadal.

He lost in the finals of the U.S. Open, in the quarters of Melbourne and Roland Garros, and the semis of Wimbledon.

With his fourth round exit at Flushing in 2009, the naysayers were hard at work: he could win over the best-of-three sets, but would he ever join the truly elite of the game over five sets?

The UK Guardian this week: “Diffident Murray…still fears disaster…no sign of a smile yet.”

The BBC, after his third round victory: “Murray produced a patchy performance.”

Yet he is popular with the players, he is courteous to the fans, and he’s cheered to the rafters by the crowds in Rod Laver and Arthur Ashe.

If Roger wins, will the media write off Andy as a serial Slam failure?

The steeplechaser is not a Derby winner: a flashy, flat-out, extrovert.

He is the big heart in the strong body, needing to mature to maximum power and endurance for the rigors of the Grand National. Now he is ready.


Roger’s burden

Age shall not wither him, but the media merry-go-round might. Blessed with easy confidence and elegant poise, he set the benchmark in media cooperation. It’s a duty that has turned from responsibility to millstone.

Losses are tossed in his face, dips in performance are translated into demise, and the longer he carries the bulls-eye on his back, the more he is quizzed.

Each record reached and exceeded is undercut by new statistics. Reaching four Slam finals in a year is undermined by Nadal’s absence. The birth of his children throws up new doubts about his conflicting priorities, his love of tennis, and his advancing years.

He has, instead, decided to make a joke of it all. Mocking self-deprecation has won new fans and deflected the headlines. He has moved from press conference fodder to media superstar in one easy move.

If Andy wins, will the media once more predict the demise of Roger?

The Arabian stallion is not the Derby winner, the one-hit wonder retired in its prime or sidelined when no longer winning. It is tough and durable, designed for speed yet able to carry disproportionate weight, a refined workhorse.


The gauntlet thrown down

So will it be the young pretender who has delighted the tennis-loving Australians or the king who stole their hearts years ago?

Both believe they can win: Both believe they will win.

Andy is in the final of his 17th Slam. Roger won his first Slam at his 17th attempt.

Odds are almost even for the steeplechaser and the Arab.

The strong and speedy versus the fit and fleet.

The pounding energy and straining sinew against the skimming feet and sweeping limbs.

The height and weight of a body at peak performance facing the lissome, angular frame of the pure-bred.

Which colors will be nailed to the mast?

The cool blue of reason or the blood red of emotion?

The one who makes the head proud, or the one who makes the heart pound?

As they step up to the line, every spectator will immediately make their choice.

For as Maya Angelou said:

“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

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