Eddie: You can't compare Mathis to Sinatra. There's no way. No way. They're in totally different leagues.
Shrevie: Eddie, they're both great singers. Modell: You know the thing about Sinatra, he's good, but ... he's too thin. I don't like that.
Eddie: Yeah, but you can't compare them. Sinatra is the lord, all right? He's big in movies. He's big in nightclubs. He's big in ...
Modell: Skip that, let me ask you another question. Start here. When you want to make out, who do you make out to -- Sinatra or Mathis?
Eddie: That's a stupid question.
Modell: One question. Answer that.
Eddie: It's irrelevant. I won't answer it. ... Mathis.
Modell: There you go. -- Argument about Frank Sinatra and Johnny Mathis from Diner.
You can't compare Roger Federer to Tiger Woods. There's no way. No way. They're in totally different sports. Their styles are too contrasting. And yet, how can you NOT compare them? Here we are, living in this time when Federer and Woods are making their arguments for history, their cases as the greatest tennis player and greatest golfer ever. They are ever-present. They are friends. They are the two most dominant athletes in the world. How can you not compare them?
Do you want to compare their numbers and trophies? Pointless. Futile. It's like trying to find the starting point of a circle or the strengths of the Washington Nationals.* Federer has won 15 Grand Slam championships; that makes him the most successful men's player ever. Woods has won 14 grand slam championships; that puts him on Jack Nicklaus' doorstep, four back, with a few golden years left to knock off the Golden Bear.
*Seriously, when do they officially change the name of the team to the Washington Generals? I'm not entirely sure about this, but I could have sworn the other night that I saw someone on the Nats fall for the ball-on-the-string trick.
Federer has reached 21 consecutive Grand Slam semifinals -- mind-numbing -- no one else has reached more than 10 in a row. Woods has been PGA Tour Player of the Year nine times already and he's on pace to do it again -- no one else has done it even seven. Federer is a preposterous 96-9 at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open -- that's 91.4 percent. Think about that. Federer is more likely to win a Wimbledon or U.S. Open match than any NBA player ever has been to make a free throw. But that's nothing: Since 2003, he is 86-2 (97.7 percent).
Tiger Woods has had the lead going into the final day of a major 14 times, and he has won all 14 times. That would be 100 percent. Or this: Tiger Woods has been in 19 playoffs on the PGA Tour and in Europe -- he is 18-1. He has not lost a playoff since 1998.
Yes, you can see it: Futile. At this point, most people tend to make the argument between Federer and Woods about their sports. Which sports is harder to dominate -- golf or tennis?
But that's a hard one to get at too. On the one hand, golf seems like it would be harder to dominate because there is only so much within a player's control. You can't play defense. You can't hit winners. You can't wear down your opponent with a flurry of body shots. For Woods to dominate he has to go out there with 100-plus of the world's best golfers and beat every one of them. He has to score lower than the hottest putters, the straightest drivers, the players who luckily chip in. And there's nothing he can do to stop them other than to be Tiger Woods (which, admittedly, does seem to go a long way). He has won 29 percent of the golf tournaments he has entered and nobody else is even close.
On the other hand, you can't have a bad day in tennis. At the British Open next week, Tiger can have a rough day or two and still win the thing. But one bad day for Federer, and he's eliminated. This is why his 21 consecutive semifinals are such a remarkable achievement ... do you want to see the most amazing statistic you will see all day (assuming you care about tennis)? Here you go:
Roger Federer has made 21 consecutive Grand Slam semifinals.
Pete Sampras' longest streak? Three. That would be THREE.*
*The Federer 21-straight streak is really a monster ... Andre Agassi's longest streak was four, John McEnroe's and Jimmy Connors' longest streaks were three (in part because they both skipped the Australian Open most of their careers).
No, you probably won't get anywhere on the tennis versus golf track either. Tennis is more physically grinding. Golf is more mentally grueling. In tennis, you have to face any number of styles. In golf, no two courses are alike. In tennis, you are alone out there, on your own, no caddy to tell you how far away the flag stands or what way the putt might break. In golf, your opponent is the golf course, and it never wilts, never chokes, rarely lets you come back from Love-40. At the end of the day, golfers will make their strong argument for golf, tennis player for tennis, and we're back on the treadmill.
Personally, I think the Roger Federer versus Tiger Woods argument is more of a cosmic one -- like the Diner argument between Sinatra and Mathis. It seems that in sports you often have Sinatra-Mathis arguments -- that is, two athletes who dominate their games in different ways. There's the Sinatra way of dominating -- come right at you, knock over some chairs, announce your presence, take over the room whether anyone likes it or not. And there's the Mathis way of dominating -- smooth, quiet, winning without offending, kicking everyone's butt and having everyone still love you the next day.
John Elway was Sinatra -- he'd tear your heart a hundred different ways. Joe Montana was Mathis -- Howie Long once said that Montana would knock you out with pillows.
Roger Clemens was Sinatra -- he'd throw baseballs at your head, broken bats at your feet, and he'd snarl between pitches. Greg Maddux was Mathis -- he would throw cottonballs over the outside corner (or six inches outside if the umpire would give it to him) and leave batters in the clubhouse shaking their heads and talking about how they just missed.
Bobby Orr was Sinatra -- dominating, insistent, willful, always rushing up the ice, always refusing to let his team lose. Wayne Gretzky was Mathis -- cool, serene, standing behind the net with the puck on his stick and a million possibilities in his mind. And so on. You can probably come up with a hundred of these.
And you can guess, no doubt, that in this scenario, Woods is Sinatra and Federer is Mathis. Woods wears blood red on Sundays and Federer wears sweaters around his neck. Federer expects to win; Woods insists on winning. Woods, like Sinatra, is for whatever gets you through the night. Federer, like Mathis, plays tender music -- I suspect Federer plays such beautiful tennis that it's probably good to make out to ... though I'll admit I've never tried it.
You could see all that at work on Sunday. Woods was on the 13th hole at the AT&T National at Congressional when he got word that Hunter Mahan had just birdied the final two holes to shoot a ridiculous 62. Mahan had tied him. Woods had six holes left and he needed to shoot one-under the rest of the way to win. So ... Tiger Woods shot one-under on the final six holes -- he birdied 16 -- and won. It was the performance of a professional assassin. And everyone in the place -- everyone -- knew that he would do it.
Federer, meanwhile, had that remarkable 77-game struggle with Andy Roddick in the finals of Wimbledon, but he won in a whole different way. He just stayed there, point after point, game after game, set after set. Every now and again, he would show a burst of emotion, but mostly no, he was serene, soft violins playing in the background, and he just kept hitting brilliant shots, kept hitting impossible to return serves, and kept waiting for Roddick to simply accept his fate. Roddick refused to give in for a long, long time. That part was inspiring. When he finally succumbed in the 30th game of the fifth set, he had that said look that said, "And the worst part is he's so good I can't even hate that guy."*
*My friend, AP columnist Jim Litke, once told a story about seeing JuliusErving play in a summer basketball game back when the Doctor was still in college. Apparently there was some other basketball star out there -- forget the name, which probably hits the point -- and at one point Erving drove to the basket and this other guy ran up to defend him, and they both took off at the same time. The crowd was going crazy and they both reached their apex and it looked like the guy would block Erving's shot. Only, it turned out that only one had really reached his apex. Erving kept going up and this other guy started going down, and Erving dunked the ball, and Litke always says that's the difference between Dr. J and everyone else.
That was what it was like watching those final few games between Roddick and Federer. Roddick went up and he stayed up with Federer as long as he could. But, he had to come down because that's just the difference between Federer and everyone else.
So, in the end, I suspect that choosing between Woods and Federer really does come down to choosing between Sinatra and Mathis, between a killer and an artist, between a steely 12-foot putt to save par and a drop shot that hits the ground and doesn't bounce up. It's all how you view the world. But it does make you wonder: When Federer and Woods hang out on the yacht, do they play some chess or Monopoly or Battleship or foosball or Paper Scissors Stones or something like that? And if they do: Who wins?*
*I suspect Tiger wins. He seems like he would be a killer Monopoly player.