The sky-high stakes in Federer-Murray

WIMBLEDON, England -- The Wimbledon final will be the second consecutive major in which the result will become part of the lore and legend of the game.

Could it be mere weeks ago that Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic clashed in the French Open final, with Djokovic poised to become the first man since Rod Laver to hold all four major titles at the same time, while Nadal was gunning for his record seventh French Open title?

The stakes are comparable in the upcoming final. Roger Federer, already the first man to play in eight Wimbledon finals, is trying to join Pete Sampras and William Renshaw (who played at the turn of the century -- not this one but the last one!) as a seven-time Wimbledon champion.

Andy Murray, already the first British man to make the final in the British major in 74 years, is trying to become the first citizen of the UK to actually win it since Fred Perry in 1936.

So let's cut to the chase. What does either man have to do to win this lottery? Let's start with Murray.

First and foremost, he has to keep his composure and not freeze up like a deer in the headlights when this insanely hyped (in the UK) epic begins. There's just no way to prepare for that, and Murray's task -- to keep Federer from taking immediate, decisive control of the match -- will be made that much more difficult by the way grass suits Federer's game.

Murray has an 8-7 head-to-head edge, but all those meetings were on the hard courts Murray prefers. They've never played on grass. Djokovic played Federer for the first time on turf in the semifinals, and he watched the Swiss take the first set in a mere 24 minutes. Enough said.

Murray and Djokovic are neck-and-neck as the best returners in the game. The 24-year-old Scotsman will have to neutralize Federer's bold, first-strike game to keep from being forced into too defensive a position. The most reliable way to do that is with the service return. The transition from defense to offense, one of Murray's strong suits, is more difficult on this than any other surface, so he can't afford to get caught hanging back and just reacting to whatever tune Federer calls.

Strokes-wise, Murray will need to be able to call on his forehand. That two-handed backhand of his is solid, but his forehand can sometimes break down. Federer will find it and put pressure on it, which brings us to the final point:

Murray will have to avoid those bouts of self-hatred and distracting frustration that often enable opponents to work their way back into matches. Murray has a penchant for drama and histrionics. Murray needs to put on his big-boy pants and focus, focus, focus.

Federer's first mission is to play like he's going on 24, not 31. Confident champion that he is, that win over Djokovic had to be pretty draining, emotionally. And once players turn 30, they're more prone to taking their foot off the gas and can come up flat. An older player can still play at or extremely close to his peak; it just gets harder and harder to do it for six, seven matches in a row.

It would help Federer's cause if he mixes up his game, throwing in some serve-and-volley tactics and striving for a high first-serve percentage. First-strike tennis will give him the opportunity to take away one of Murray's great strengths, his defense. And relentless offensive pressure will wear on Murray, and that is the most direct route to goading him into frustration and negativity.

In the ground game, Murray probably will be trying to find Federer's backhand, particularly the slice. So Federer needs to bring his forehand into play, but not in his most typical way.

The problem for Federer is that when he steps around his backhand to hit the inside-out forehand, it will leave plenty of open court for Murray's first-rate down-the-line backhand. Federer will benefit if he can take that shot away from Murray. The added plus is that if Federer can dial in his own down-the-line backhand, the ball will go to Murray's weaker forehand wing.

And now for some quick hits

The roof: If the lid is on Centre Court, Federer benefits. He's the best "indoor" player in the world.

The crowd: It will be for Murray, of course, but Federer is so well-respected that they won't intimidate or annoy him.

The pressure: It's on Federer. From he to whom much is given, much is expected.

The winner: Murray, because I believe in magic.