After 13 years on tour, Spain’s David Ferrer is finally into his first ever Grand Slam final at Roland Garros. That he will compete for an elusive Major championship on the terre battue of Paris seems fitting considering he has 10 clay titles to his credit. But to think of Ferrer as just a clay court specialist would be a mistake. Out of the 20 career titles he holds, 10 were won on other surfaces including indoor hard and grass.
With a steady, though not flashy game coupled with a tremendous fighting spirit, the Valencia native has earned nearly $19 million U.S. in career prize money and plenty of unnecessary nicknames comparing him to various animals along the way. Ferrer could be considered something of a late bloomer with a slow burn of a career. Despite consistent success during his first few years on tour, it wasn’t until 2007 that Ferrer burst into any kind of real worldwide awareness. That took place at the U.S. Open that same year when he beat Nadal en route to reaching the semifinals. Ferrer later reached the finals of the end of season event known then as the Tennis Masters Cup losing to eventual champion Federer. Ferrer finished 2007 ranked No. 5 in the world and though he did dip out of the top 20 in 2009, he made a slow climb back to inside the top 10 and recently as high as No. 4 in the world.
Why did it take Ferrer, now age 31, so long to reach the final round at one of the Majors? Well, being an active player during the reign of the “Big Four” in Djokovic, Federer, Murray and Nadal certainly did not help. Until his win over the Frenchman Tsonga in the Roland Garros semis, Ferrer had lost in five previous semifinal appearances to one of the above four mentioned. In an era where having a big weapon is really a necessity, Ferrer instead relies on innate agility, a solid two-handed backhand and the ferocious ability to wear down almost anyone on a tennis court who isn’t able to keep up with him. That combination has taken Ferrer farther than most players of his generation. But not far enough against that elite quartet who continue to dominate the sport.
Though being a player over the age of 30 is hardly a rarity anymore, Ferrer’s veteran status continues to make him a growing sentimental favorite among fans. Some of those fans believe that Ferrer “deserves”, because of his strong work ethic and perseverance during the era of the “Big Four”, to have his fair share of the sport’s biggest riches. While that is certainly a nice sentiment, Ferrer would probably be the first to tell anyone that rewards, like reaching a Grand Slam final, feel even better when you have achieved them on your own terms. There’s no voting in tennis on who gets to be in a Major final. You either make it through the required seven rounds or not. It’s that simple.
If Ferrer wants to win his first Grand Slam title, he will have to do it against his friend and Spanish Davis Cup teammate Nadal who currently owns the title “King of Clay” because of his remarkable seven French Open championships. Nadal holds a convincing 19-4 lifetime head to head against Ferrer although their last two meetings in Madrid and Rome went three sets with Nadal winning both.
While he knows he is only one win away from the ultimate prize all players seek one day in their careers, the always humble and classy Ferrer kept it all in perspective.
“It’s a dream for me to be in a final of a Grand Slam and Roland Garros is the one that is most important for me,” said Ferrer. “It is great as well that we are both Spanish players so it’s important for the country. At the end of the day it’s sport – there are things that are more important than that – but it’s important for me and my family. And for Rafa.”
Though some feel Ferrer has a mental block when it comes to playing and beating Nadal, he feels it is more about Nadal’s abilities on the court more than anything going on in his head. Speaking after his semifinal win in Paris, Ferrer said about Nadal, “It’s difficult to beat Nadal but not because he’s Spanish but because he’s a very good player. Nothing else.”
Fans root for Ferrer because in some ways he is the ultimate underdog. Despite his top five status and successful career, there’s still a feeling that Ferrer was just a little bit unlucky having to compete in this “Golden Age” of men’s tennis we are experiencing now. And there’s also the reality that no matter what he achieves, it will always pale to the lengthy resume of Nadal. But Ferrer probably wouldn’t see it that way though. For him, having achieved so much while in the same time as these greats perhaps means even more to him.
His chances against Nadal may be slim but for Ferrer to be playing on the last day of Roland Garros, when many thought he might never reach such a moment, is perhaps its own reward. After a long and fruitful career, the unabated joy on Ferrer’s face after reaching his first Major final proved once again that sometimes the greatest prize of all is the journey itself.