Ferrero smiles again in Paris By Ossian Shine
PARIS (Reuters) - When Juan Carlos Ferrero obliterated Martin Verkerk to win his first French Open crown in 2003, the Spaniard's grip on the claycourt season was iron.
Lightning quick around the court with a punchy forehand and the ability to run all day, the lightweight baseliner with the heavyweight game had a bright future ahead of him.
Later that year he reached the final of the U.S. Open and became the first player since Ivan Lendl in 1980 to win at least 30 matches on both clay and hard courts in a season.
Things can change quickly in tennis, however, and in 2004 the softly-spoken Spaniard suffered a miserable period.
He missed the month of March with chicken pox. After a tentative and abortive comeback in April he needed another month to recuperate and gain strength.
In May he injured his wrist and ribs in a fall while practising and as defending champion lost in the second round in Paris.
After Wimbledon in June he failed to win back-to-back matches for the rest of the year and finished outside the top 30 for the first time in five years.
Still feeling his way back, Ferrero survived a tricky Roland Garros first-round match Tuesday and his quiet confidence was at once topped up.
"I just keep playing my game," he smiled after beating Karol Beck 6-4 6-3 6-3. "I think I'm playing well.
"I've been playing well this season. If I'm not considered a favorite, well, that's all right. I think if I keep playing well, I might become a favorite."
Ferrero has been overshadowed by his compatriot Rafael Nadal whose fantastic form heading into the Open installed him as pre-tournament favorite to win it on his debut.
Ferrero reached the semi-finals on his debut in 2000 and knows the pressure expectation can bring. He also feels Nadal deserves the accolades after winning in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Rome.
"Well, it's normal that he's a great favorite -- he's won a lot of tournaments on clay. There's a lot of respect for him on this type of court," said Ferrero who lost to Nadal in Valencia and Barcelona.
"He is a very dangerous player. He has a lot of strength. He's very fit. I think he's playing excellent tennis. He has great opportunities here in the French Open. He's through to the second round and we have to see what happens."
Ferrero could almost have been talking about himself.