Whenever Roger Federer and Andy Murray talk about each other, I can't help but think of that American sitcom starring Charlie Sheen and Jon Cryer who portray two brothers with a comic relationship characterized by competition and resentment.
I get the feeling that if they weren't sporting rivals not all that fond of one another, they'd be playing tricks on the other, trying to score the prettiest woman in the room. As it is, they try to psyche each other out in interviews, seeking the upper hand in the mind games before scoring victory on the court.
As Barry Flatman writes:
As Murray prepares for the biggest match of his tennis life in today's Australian Open final, with the opportunity to become Britain's first male Grand Slam champion since 1936, he may reflect on the pre-match posturing of opponent Roger Federer. Some would regard the Swiss' comments that things are much easier for him because Murray is burdened with the expectations of a nation that has had to wait 150,000 years for a Grand Slam winner as relaxed, confident and comical.
Others would regard them as snide and insensitive to a nation yearning, desperately, for another champion after such a long drought.
But while the unforgiving press reminds the fang-flashing, primal-screaming Scot how important the first set will be, given Raja's record of winning 47 of 48 matches Down Under after taking the first set, Murray gets in a sting of his own:
Well, I mean, against Del Potro at the US Open last year, he was up a set and serving for the set, and Del Potro came back. You know, guys have come back against him in the past.
Obviously, it would be nice to start well, but I don't think it's the end of the match if the start doesn't go my way. Five‑set matches, so much can happen. A lot can change in just a few points, like my match the other night against Cilic. It's not the end of the world if the start doesn't go to plan.
And then there's this:
In the past few years he's also lost a lot of close matches in five sets, including slam finals.
You hear that, Raja? Murray won't be withering like a wind-burnt pea pod just because you get a lead. So don't let up or you'll be trying to improve upon your relatively mediocre five-set record in another Grand Slam final.
But Raja isn't one to let others do his bidding. No way, no how. He's quite capable of tooting his own horn and dismissing his rivals with a serving of cattiness wrapped in Leonine charm with a side of delusion. The recipe of many a great champion.
As Doug Perry, a Federer aficionado, freely admits:
Federer has shown over the years an unfortunate propensity for flippant remarks about his rivals. He shelved the Muhammad Ali-like self-huzzahs when his quest for the all-time major record bogged down amid Rafael Nadal's endless crunching forehands, but now they're back.
That might be a bit of an understatement. Check this out:
He's in his second grand-slam final now and I think the first one's always a bit tougher than the second one. Now that he didn't win the first one, I think it doesn't help for the second one around. Plus he's playing, you know, me, who's won many grand-slams and has been able to win here three times, so I know what it takes and how to do it, which is definitely an advantage.
I don't feel the pressure's really on me having to do it again because I did it before. I think he really needs it more than I do, so the pressure's bigger on him. We'll see how he's going to handle it. It's not going to be easy for him, that's for sure.
Without taking anything away from him, I think a few times he played me I wasn't at my very, very best. I played him on a couple of occasions -- Dubai comes to mind -- when I had just come back from resting, after my mono [mononucleosis, the illness]. I know some don't like to hear it and some still don't believe me for some reason.
We had some close matches on many occasions where I thought I was in control and I ended up giving the match away by making errors of my own. That was definitely because of his play and the way he plays. That's why I don't really care too much about how the head-to-head stands [6-4 in Murray's favour]. Every match is played differently."
Ah, yes. The reintroduction of the mono
excuse explanation, giving new meaning to Raja's Mr. Monogram nickname.
The reason some fans raise an eyebrow about your claims of mononucleosis, Mr. Mono-gram, is because, well, you never even missed an event because of it, unlike, say, Mario Ancic who can't seem to overcome his own bout with the energy sapping illness after more than two years.
But I digress.
Murray is having none of it.
But to me that stuff he said is irrelevant. I have always been pretty respectful about his game. He's probably the greatest player that's ever played. But if every time he loses to me he thinks it's because he hasn't played his best, well, every time I have lost against him I don't think I have played my best either.
Don't they sound like brothers?
Both men claim to enjoy the match up. Both men claim to have the other's number. Both men insist the outcome of the match is on their racquet.
So who will be this year's Wizard of Oz?
In tonight's rematch of the 2008 US Open final, I've got a sneaking suspicion the world No. 1 is going to hand the world No. 5 his ass on a silver runner-up platter.
I, for one, would be perfectly happy with back-to-back-to-back five-set Slam finals, but I'm not holding my breath.
May the best
brother man win.
ESPN will air the finals live at 3:30AM eastern standard time.