Roger or Rafa: Clash of the Wimbledon sex symbols
It's the question that seems to have divided half of the nation. On the eve of another encounter between the world's best – and sexiest – tennis stars, we ask who really sets the pulses racing on Centre Court
Saturday 05 July 2008
Susie Rushton: 'Federer is a dream – he's graceful and effortless'
The Stones or The Beatles. Ken or Boris. At certain moments, opinion isn't merely divided but drawn along battle lines. So it is with Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.
Tomorrow's showdown is about sophistication versus brute force. Grunting Rafa is the neon-clad Rambo of tennis, all over-pumped biceps (and disproportionately underformed pectorals, if we're going to get anatomical about it), and sodden rats'-tails. On court, he "runs around like a rabbit," as Andy Murray says. His game is about power. It looks exhausting.
Then there's the world's No 1, the 26-year-old dusky-skinned, floppy-haired Roger Federer, aka the Maestro, Fed-Express, Fedi, the greatest tennis player of all time. He's a dream – and his game is rather pleasant to gaze upon, too: in contrast to Rafa's pitbull stance, his play is graceful, fluid and apparently effortless.
"The fleet, lissom seraph of the lawns, whose temperament flows like a cool stream over the rocky bed of his desire," is how one of this paper's sports writers described him this week.
But not everybody gets it. Some complain that the men's singles game has become boring. The entertainingly stroppy likes of McEnroe and Becker, they say, have been replaced by androids with the mental focus to hit second-serve aces even at break-point down – but no charm. Think, if one can without slipping into a coma, of Sampras, Lendl, Courier ...
Outrageously, some would bracket Roger in this gallery of bores. The reasons offered are usually (a) he's Swiss and (b) he's so damned cool under pressure. Well, prejudice against Switzerland aside, to my mind the case against Federer is one of sour grapes.
He has dominated the grass game since 2004. He is as equable in victory as in defeat, bespeaking a confidence that I and fellow Federettes everywhere find more alluring than any Murrayesque petulance or Henmanlike fist-pumping. But detractors should note his self-control is hard won. In fact, in his early years, he was prone to tantrums and even racket-flinging. Then he grew up.
The appeal of Roger isn't only that he possesses a forehand that John McEnroe calls, "the greatest shot in our sport". With dash beyond his years, he relishes the old-world glamour of lawn tennis. Rather than flaunt his fine, loose-limbed musculature, Federer has single-handedly brought class back to the tradition of Wimbledon whites.
In past seasons, he has strolled on to court in a jaunty blazer and long trousers; this tournament, it's a gentlemanly cardigan with "RF" monogram, even wearing it for the warm-up. How cool is that?
If he's stylish, he's had coaching from the best: last year he popped up on the front row of Marc Jacobs's fashion show, in New York, as the arm-candy of a clearly smitten Anna Wintour, editor of US Vogue. Asked that evening what sporting couture she favoured, Ms Wintour gushed, "Anything that Roger wears." Right on, Anna.
On the subject of women, since 2000 Federer has dated Mirka Vavrinec, a tennis player three years his senior, who is attractive, but not quite the 19-year-old totty usually favoured by millionaire sports stars. You have to like him for that. His opponents love him, too, as do journalists, because he always answers questions smilingly.
Tomorrow, elegantly volleying away craven suggestions that he's losing his edge, Roger will continue his imperious march into the sporting history books and seize his sixth successive Wimbledon title, in style. Oh, gosh, and I'll try and keep up with the score, too.
Hannah Betts: 'Spain's man-child would scrub up rather nicely...'
Let's not beat about the SW19 bush here. The sexiest thing about Rafael Nadal isn't his swarthy biceps, or his Ninja Turtle moniker. It is the fact that he thrashed the British hopeful thus removing any vestige of national pride and focusing attention on what really matters about Wimbledon – the sex.
Accordingly, the female-admiring section of the audience finds its thrills in orgasmic girlish moans and Athena-poster eroticism – while we women and gay men get our kicks in two chaps coming up against each other in the manner of rutting stags. And, this year, it is clearly the moment of the glowering young buck.
I admit it, in former tournaments, my libido has been won over by Roger Federer's geek chic: I swooned over that blazer, gasped over his magician's flair. But, Roger, baby, it – and you – are beginning to look old.
Nads, to be sure, is something of a flawed hero: sweaty and straggle-haired, with the look of a pubescent who might inadvertently break into air guitar. The chav rebranding inflicted upon him by Nike – all bandanas, sleeveless tops and lamentable pirata pants – are demonstration that one can take the boy out of Majorca but one cannot take Majorca out of the boy.
Still, we girls like nothing better than a makeover opportunity: with a haircut, a wash and a little light Gok action, Spain's man-child has the makings of an individual who would scrub up rather nicely.
After all, Nadal is not lacking in physical charm. A straw poll as to his attributes conducted among his many Spanish flag-bedaubed admirers yielded but one response: "It's the arms, stupid."
Men fatally underestimate this region of their anatomy. It is not that they should look as steroid-pumped as our boy's, more that they should inspire some notion of what it would be like to be encircled within them. Young Rafael's have the air of being an extremely safe space indeed.
His favourite film is – whisper it – Gladiator – and there is a certain Maximus Decimus Meridius appeal to his on-court thuggery. With his tree-trunk legs and frying-pan grip, he is the personification of brute physical prowess. One has to be pretty damn fit to be crowned King of Clay – with all the dashing about that the surface requires – and Nadal has achieved this status with a barely contained machismo. Where other players gasp, he grunts, ripe with Neanderthal savagery. If Federer fences, Nadal annihilates, eyes black as shark's, the very embodiment of pugilism. Should the Swiss player be victorious, it will be a crime against beefcakery.
And, yet – oh joy! – Nadal is a paradox. For all the on-court loutishness, our hero is beguilingly puppyish when not equipped with a racket. His coach Uncle Toni – who is his uncle – has brought up his man cub to be a "nice boy", strictly no racket-lobbing allowed.
Rafael lives in Manacor, the sleepy town he grew up in, and is a positive Mr Manners. Bashful concerning the slavish admiration he inspires, he has as his WAG a childhood friend, who – shock! – studies rather than shops. Her beau describes his perfect day as bobbing about in a fishing boat rather than having intercourse; an anecdote rich in the implication to aspiring Mrs Robinsons that he has yet to encounter the woman with whom to channel his hyperactivity.
A noble savage with a devastating top-spin in need of a little off-court education? Raffy, baby, come to Mamma.
'I was impressed by the generosity Nadal showed to Andy Murray. Generosity is always sexy' Esther Rantzen, broadcaster, 68
'I love the way Nadal plays. He's aggressive. He's cute, too, but it's talent that makes players beautiful' Melanie Brown, Analyst, 32
'I definitely prefer Nadal. He's so sexy. I like his muscle. I definitely want him to win' Abbey Edwards, student, 17
'Nadal is fluent in body language, but there does have to be pillow talk. I would go for Federer' Kathy Lette, author, 49
'Federer appeals to me with his personality. He gets on with the job and doesn't mess around' Sandra Whittacker, entrepreneur, 63
'I prefer Federer. He's passionate, but at the same time controlled. He makes the game interesting' Sonia Garbett, student, 34
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