What does the bold part mean?

I don't understand the structure of it, especially the "less […] to […]" part.

The match itself was something of an anticlimax. Djokovic, spent from his encounter with del Potro, never generated much momentum. The outcome seemed a foregone conclusion after Murray, with his roadrunner serve, delivered an ace at 6–5, 40–0 to win the second set. Less than an hour later, on match point No. 4, Djokovic hit a backhand into the net, giving Murray the championship at 6–4, 7–5, 6–4. (In contravention of stadium rules, Alex Salmond, the secessionist First Minister of Scotland, unfurled a Scottish flag.) Djokovic had seemed less than Zen during the match, but he delivered a gracious tribute to Murray, who has emerged as the less gutsy Nadal to his less regal Federer, playing to the heart-warmed fans. “He absolutely deserved this win,” he said, of Murray. “He played incredible tennis. And congratulations to his team, and to all of you guys in the home country. It was an absolute honor and pleasure to be part of it.”

3 Answers 3


The structure is a fairly standard simile; stripped down a bit, it says that Murray emerged "as the ... Nadal to [Djokovic's] Federer", which is to say that the match-up between Murray and Djokovic feels comparable to the well-known rivalry between Nadal and Federer.

A couple of parenthetical remarks are thrown in to make it clear that this Murray/Djokovic rivalry doesn't really measure up to the high standards of Nadal/Federer, since Murray is a "less gutsy" version of Nadal and Djokovic is a "less regal" version of Federer.

  • Thank you. and who played to the heartwarmed fans? Was it Murray?
    – user2492
    Commented Sep 12, 2013 at 14:30
  • That part relates back to the earlier part of the sentence: "[Djokovic] delivered a gracious tribute to Murray, [...] playing to the heart-warmed fans." That is, Djokovic's tribute made the fans feel even happier about their new champion, Murray. So, Djokovic "played to the fans" by delivering the tribute.
    – Hellion
    Commented Sep 12, 2013 at 14:34
  • But the structure wise, my interpretation is possible?
    – user2492
    Commented Sep 12, 2013 at 14:39
  • It's a fairly long sentence with many parts, so I can see how you might arrive at that interpretation by examining various pieces; but if you consider the structure as a whole, it really cannot work out that way.
    – Hellion
    Commented Sep 12, 2013 at 14:44

What in this particular meaning this means would require knowledge of relationship between Nadal and Federer, who are supposedly some kind of fierce rivals.

The construct "[person 1] emerged/appeared/played/was the [character 1] to [person 2]'s [character 2]" is a common construct comparing a pair of people (and their relationship) to another well-known pair, often qualifying it with exceptions or similarities.

State secretary was the Robin to president's Batman in the no-pardon combat against emergent crime.

The young rebellious son of the millionaire would escape into Harlem at night, to play Romeo to his dark-skinned Juliet of a porter's daughter.


It compares the match between Murray and Djokovic to the better known (and higher-level) rivalry between Nadal and Federer: Murray in this match ended up looking like like ("emerged as") Nadal, but less gutsy than Nadal, while Djokovic' role was similar to that of Federer, but less regal than Federer.

  • So it is a corruption of "A is to B as C is to D"?
    – user2492
    Commented Sep 12, 2013 at 14:27
  • 1
    @kih1930 I see no reason to characterize it as "corruption", but, yeah, Nadal:Federer::Murray:Djokovic'. Commented Sep 12, 2013 at 14:40

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