Saturday's U.S. Open results aligned neatly with the narrative involving Roger Federer, the player who has won more major tournaments than any man in tennis history, and Andy Murray, the well-established challenger desperately seeking a first title in his 28th Grand Slam event.
The elegant Federer, seeded No. 1 for the 23rd time in a Slam, cruised through his third-round match against No. 25 Fernando Verdasco of Spain, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4. The dogged Murray, seeded third, was made to earn a 7-6, (5), 7-6 (5), 4-6, 7-6 (4) decision over Spaniard Feliciano Lopez, seeded 30th.
At the end of the day -- a hot, windy day at Flushing Meadows -- the two are equally as far along in the pursuit of the championship. (The third in the trio of heavy pre-tournament favorites, defending champ Novak Djokovic, will play his third-round match Sunday).
But there is a difference in their circumstance, and everyone knows it. For Federer to think in terms of winning an 18th major, even at the relatively advanced age of 31, means "way less pressure," he said, than Murray's stress in capturing his first at 25.
"I don't know how to explain it," Federer said. "You don't even explain it because it makes so much sense. Before, when you're trying to break through, make your move, you realize it's so hard [against the] older generation you saw on TV. It's not so easy to come through that one.
"I remember I felt an awful lot of pressure because I was very talented and people always said, 'He's going to be the next No. 1, next Grand Slam champion, but it seems like there's something missing.' You're like, 'Yeah, I agree. There is something missing, but I hadn't figured it out yet. You panic a little bit. It's not so simple at times."
Murray reached his first Slam final at 21 -- at the Open in 2008 -- and lost to Federer in straight sets. He was runner-up to Federer at the 2010 Australian Open and this year's Wimbledon, and to Djokovic at the 2011 Australian.
"I have no idea whether I'll win a Grand Slam or not," he said after a prior elimination here. "You know, I want to. But if I never win one, then what? If I give a hundred percent, try my best, physically work as hard as I can, practice as much as I can, then that's all I can do."
He called his victory over Federer at last month's Olympics the biggest of his career, and Saturday he agreed that "sometimes, when you have your first big win, it can relax you."
But here he is, stuck in an era dominated by Federer, Rafael Nadal and Djokovic. "Obviously, you know, if they weren't there, there would be more chance for me to win major tournaments," Murray said. "But I think I've improved as a player because I'm competing against them, play at this level against them."
So the story continues . . .