Backstory: Who's the more dominant sportsman: Woods or Federer?
This is the endless summer of Roger Federer and Tiger Woods. They are the stars of a new Golden Age of Sports, where athletes are molded, packaged, and branded, where the sun never sets on a global stage.Skip to next paragraph
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But Federer and Woods are more than brands, and surely more than personalities. They are flesh-and-blood champions, known locally and globally for their work ethic and their dominance.
In an era where politicians, business tycoons, gosh, even actors, worry endlessly about such a thing as creating a legacy, Federer and Woods create something more enduring.
They just win, week after week, year after year. They don't talk about legacy, they talk about victory.
It's fashionable now to try and figure out who is more dominant, who means more on the sporting landscape.
You say Federer and I say Woods.
You say Federer has won 10 major tennis titles, including last month's Australian Open, where he flattened his rivals with a superb blend of shot-making and steel. He didn't drop a set. And now, at 25, he's poised to make a run at the Grand Slam, out to conquer that red clay at Roland Garros to claim the French Open, and then repeat as champion at Wimbledon and the US Open.
I say Woods has won 12 major golf titles and swept the big four – the Masters, US Open, British Open, and PGA Championship. If any modern golfer can win the Grand Slam in a single season, it's Woods. He refashioned his swing for the long haul and physically and psychologically crushed all his near rivals. At 31, he may just be entering his prime.
The argument is circular, emotive, not easily resolved. After all, Federer wields a tennis racket while Woods swings a golf club.
They're fast friends, of course. Woods dropped in at last year's US Open to see Federer win the final in New York. Federer wandered the course at the Dubai Desert Classic this past weekend to watch Woods play.
They may be the only two active athletes who know what it's like to compete at such a rarefied level while yearning for more success. Federer is out to surpass Pete Sampras, who won 14 Grand Slam titles before retiring. Woods is aiming at the 18 major golf titles won by Jack Nicklaus.
So, how do you separate these two? Does Federer dominate tennis more than Woods dominates golf? That's really a wash. If Federer enters a tennis tournament, he's the favorite. If Woods enters a golf tournament, he's the favorite.
I'll be honest. I've seen them both and even I have a hard time deciding who's really No. 1. Right now, it might be Federer. Next year, it might be Woods. In five years they'll likely be the greatest all-time performers in their chosen sports.
I saw Federer on the rise dump Sampras at Wimbledon, saw him grow as a player. The one thing television can't capture is Federer's speed and quickness, his now-you-see-him-now-you-don't ability to cover the court.
I saw Woods at the 1999 British Open at Carnoustie in Scotland. Not the greatest of conditions. The rough came up to your waist and the wind slammed car doors like a frustrated driver lost in the middle of nowhere. And there was Woods, on the tees, belting shots into the wind. Television doesn't do Woods justice, either. It doesn't adequately portray his full power and quickness.
David Wallechinsky, a historian of the global sporting village, including the Olympics, says judging how famous a person is doesn't matter in this argument – it's how they perform in their chosen sport.