David Ferrer announced in late July that this year’s US Open would likely be his last grand slam tournament. After years of consistent results at Slams, he has failed to make it past the first round of one since Wimbledon last year. This is part of an ongoing decline in his form which began in mid-2016. As logical as his decision to begin phasing into retirement is, it is still sad to think that after Ferrer’s Grand Slam farewell, fans will not be treated to displays of his trademark tenacity on tennis’ biggest stages in years to come.
Ferrer’s Grand Slam Farewell
Ferrer’s entire professional career has been conducted in the shadow of generational talents. Because of his age, 36, he first faced prime Roger Federer, then Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, and Andy Murray. In the face of this challenge, his trademark became his tenacity and consistency. Ferrer is short for a tennis player, 5’9″, but, at his best, few in the history of the sport have struck the ball as cleanly, or covered a court as quickly or efficiently.
Few have maximized their potential as well as Ferrer. Undaunted by the fact that he was facing off against players more physically imposing than himself, he found ways to dominate the game on his terms. His clean ball-striking from the baseline, cool head and soft hands at the net, and lightning speed made him a threat to any player he faced, even the big four.
He had a losing head-to-head against all members of the big four but recorded notable victories against all but Federer. More notable in assessing his place in tennis is how he fared against non-big four Grand Slam winners.
Despite not possessing a “killer shot” the way these men do – Wawrinka’s backhand, Cilic’s serve, del Potro’s forehand – he ground them down with unfussy baseline heroics. The purity of his counterpunching made even his defensive style of play exciting. His comparatively diminutive stature sweetening every victory. Commentators were often left agape at the way he stayed in points, retrieving balls that would have been winners against most other players.
Ferrer has won 27 singles titles, two doubles titles, and competed seven times at the ATP World Tour Finals. He also reached the quarterfinals or better multiple times at every Grand Slam, and even contested a French Open final in 2013. He is also currently the seventh highest earning male tennis player of all time, and the highest listed player never to have won a Grand Slam – more evidence of his consistency.
Ferrer has enjoyed a prolonged period of success. He reached his first Grand Slam quarterfinal at the 2005 French Open and made the finals of the ATP World Tour Finals at his first appearance at that tournament in 2007, losing to Roger Federer. His greatest successes came in 2012 and 2013, two years in which he reached the quarterfinals or better at ever grand slam and ended both years ranked within the top five. On seven separate occasions, in 2007 and then from 2010 to 2015, he finished the year ranked inside the top 10. Further, since his first Grand Slam, the 2003 Australian Open, he has missed only one, Wimbledon in 2015. The 2018 US Open will be his 63rd Slam; an incredible, almost unbroken fifteen year run.
Even as his success grew, Ferrer became, if anything, more grounded. He spoke often about how in his early career he would become agitated, yelling at himself and breaking racquets. As he grew older he mellowed and in interviews gave measured, self-deprecating answers. He also often referenced the books he was reading. He said of how he came to love reading and how it fit into his life as a professional tennis player, “I read always as a child. My mother, she is a teacher and I was always given a book to read. In the clubhouse, we have a lot of free time and reading is my hobby.”
Ferrer is a unique player; successful, humble, and erudite, with a tenacious style of play belied by his soft-spoken interviews and quiet demeanor. Heading into his final grand slam, he has kept a low profile. His announcement that the 2018 US Open would be his final grand slam was met with quiet acknowledgement by the tennis press. His ranking has slipped to 148th in the world, a steady decline two years in the making.
However, the US Open draw has ensured that his farewell to Grand Slam play will be a memorable one. In the first round, he will face off against his Davis Cup teammate–they won the competition three times, in 2008, 2009, and 2011–and friend Rafael Nadal. Ferrer has beaten Nadal in their two previous Grand Slam matches on hard courts, including a four-set thriller at the 2007 US Open. It is unlikely that he will replicate those results this time, but it is perilous to underestimate Ferrer. Whatever the outcome of the match, Ferrer’s final US Open will end either with a defeat to an old friend and rival (and the current World #1) in top form, or with at least one thrilling upset to his name. Whatever happens, while this may be Ferrer’s last Grand Slam, tennis will not soon forget such a valiant, intelligent, committed competitor.