Geniuses similar, but vastly different

Roger Federer battled only his genius on his way up, learning which shot to select; Tiger Woods battled prejudice, the first African-American star in a lilywhite, spoilt, country club sport, writes Rohit Brijnath.

Both want to win every tournament they enter. Both often win every tournament they enter. Both wept last year on victory. Both make opponents weep. Both have CVs the size of novellas, the recitations of which before matches causes rivals to consider alternative employment.

When a rueful adversary once said, "We're all human beings here, but there is no chance humanly possible he is going to lose," it's hard to say who has been spoken of. Roddick on Federer? Close. Montgomerie on Tiger Woods.

But as much as there is similarity between Tiger Woods and Roger Federer there is difference, brilliant twins, yet fraternal ones.

The golfer owns an accountant's blank face but it comes with an interrogator's menace. On the tee, he could melt stone. The tennis player enters court like a man visiting an art exhibition and no one has yet told him it's his. Federer scowls every new moon, Tiger in his sleep.

The czar of the clubs intimidates, but appears like he seeks to; the racquet-master intimidates, but it appears a by-product of how he plays. Of Tiger, it is regularly said, that he practices more dutifully than anyone, ignoring even a dipping sun's signal to go home; no stories abound of Federer's work ethic, as if it is unseemly for him to be seen sweating.

The golfer's power is so striking that it occasionally obscures his majestic touch; the tennis player's feel is so delicious that it occasionally conceals his considerable power. Tiger is physically commanding, owns a fashion sense (red T-shirt on the final day is his signature) and looks an athlete; Federer is actually an athlete but doesn't always look like one, and his clothes appear designed by a colour-blind banker.

The tennis player battled only his genius on his way up, learning which shot to select; Tiger battled prejudice, the first African-American star in a lilywhite, spoilt, country club sport. It may account for Tiger's resolve, or as Federer said last fortnight: "He is more driven than me."

The tennis player is rich, the golfer is loaded. Federer made roughly $22 million or so last year; Tiger made roughly $90 million. America, the biggest market, is, incredibly, cold to the tennis player; in America, the golfer, is the hottest athlete in the market.

The course guru faces greater scrutiny and pressure from the US media; the court magician gets a free ride from everyone. Tiger's every move is analysed; Federer's every movement is deified. Tiger did not respond happily to questions about his slump: Federer has yet to be in a slump.

Tiger is more recognisable, probably the planet's most famous sportsman, which defies immediate logic considering golf is an elitist sport, beyond the reach of much of the planet; Federer is better loved, both by public and peers, his fame limited perhaps only because he is not born American, or English.

Tiger has opponents, Federer, clay aside, does not. Federer's opponents send him virtual valentines, like Roddick who once said: "I told him, `I'd love to hate you, but you're really nice'." No one sends Tiger a valentine except Elin.

Tiger is known to spit invective; Federer told us he threw racquets once else we would have never believed him. Tiger faces enormous distractions in his workplace; Federer does not. Tiger, as an African-American role model, an American icon, has to be more careful of what he says; Federer can call himself "magical" and everyone nods in agreement.

Golfers seem aloof, isolated, locked away in country clubs, men viewed from a distance, not given to demonstration. Tiger, wearing a mask most days, appears even more remote, a distant God, an inaccessible icon, evoking respect, but rarely affection.

You would not readily hail Tiger should you bump trolleys in a supermarket. With Federer you might discuss backhands. His smile is gentler, his manner less daunting, yet also his faithful less demanding. He is not bereft of ego, or Mother Teresa on the court, but appears to understand that for all his super gifts he is no superman.

The golfer is an idol on a pedestal; the tennis player is a more human hero.