Federer and Woods share fertile imaginations and are friends of finesse, writes Rohit Brijnath

Have they ever met these two men, for face to face it would be like peering into a mirror of genius. Of one man Ernie Els said: "He's a freak, you know"; of the other, said Nick Bolletieri: "He's a sort of freak of nature". It is often said they have arrived from a distant planet; presumably it is the same one.

They share fertile imaginations, are friends of finesse and pals with power, and wear greatness with such confidence it seems they were fitted for it by a Saville Row tailor.

But perhaps their closest connection is found in a stalking of history; at one level their contest is with their peers, at another, they compete with the spirits of men who came before them.

Tiger Woods will understand what Pete Sampras means to Roger Federer, and Roger Federer knows what Jack Nicklaus means to Tiger Woods. The American is 10 Majors down with eight to go to catch Nicklaus; the Swiss is seven down with seven to go to equal Sampras.

Their lives are uniquely affixed to other men, and thus in a way entwined with each other. This chase of the two almost mythical records in sport is what defines them.

For Federer, the lawns of Wimbledon is where it began and where his talent is most eloquently announced with three titles. For Woods, the fairways of the Masters is where it started and where his greatness has been most tellingly advertised with four wins.

Closely linked

Like both men, both venues are closely linked, and not just in the green jackets of the Masters and the green court backdrops of Wimbledon. Both are protectors of tradition, and, in a way, peddlers of it, defined by ritual and strong on ceremony. In Wimbledon, royalty will award the prize, in Augusta the previous year's winner will help the champion shrug on his jacket.

Wimbledon does things its own way and so does the Masters, and rebels are asked to leave all causes at the gate. At Wimbledon, when the tempestuous John McEnroe won, honorary membership, usually granted to winners, was initially withheld; at Augusta National, a commentator was reportedly asked not to return when he referred to patrons as a "mob".

To not play in these coliseums is considered your loss. But most come, for most are in awe. If these two venues can be pretentious, they can also be refreshing, for amidst the razzmatazz of modern sport, history and permanence has its own precious scent.

If most sport has married glitz and courts hype, here is found an older romance. There will never be dancing cheerleaders in Wimbledon, nor rap music at Augusta. In their difference lies their appeal.

Different opponents

Federer's opponent is human, Tiger's is nature (the conditions and course). The Swiss plays against another man, the golfer against himself. Federer's time is shorter, Woods' job arguably harder. Nicklaus may have won 18 Majors, and Sampras 14, but the golfer won his last at 46, an age when Sampras will be happy to keep up with his son Christian.

The Masters this year has lengthened its course again, but Tiger will not mind. After all, every alteration since he destroyed the course in 1997 can be interpreted as a flattery of his skills. The club has almost tried to proof a course against one man. So far it has failed.

This time we don't know, but it's all we want to see. Maybe in a hotel room somewhere, so will Federer. Is he the Tiger Woods of tennis, or Tiger the Roger Federer of golf? Or is it just the same thing?

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