January 22, 2009
David Ferrer, Spain's No. 2 player, after his straight-sets win over Dominik Hrbaty yesterday.
Photo: Wayne Taylor
A Spaniard named David is more than happy to let others bask in the spotlight.
IN OUR stereotypical dreams, Spaniards have names like Pedro, Julio or even Rafael. Swooning admirers cry "Arriba!" and "Vamos!" before falling breathlessly at their dancing feet. Their world is an endless romp of gyrating hips and sangria.
Which you'd think would make it tough being plain old David Ferrer, who on court three yesterday could drag nothing more passionate out of a subdued audience than a nasally "C'mon Davo!" from a bored local.
Such is your lot as the second-best tennis player in your country, when the amigo at the top of the heap is Rafa Nadal.
Not that Ferrer seems to mind. "He's the No. 1 in the world, he's the best player for Spain, and I'm the No. 2," he said yesterday of his countryman with the profile as big as his shorts and biceps. "I play my game, I play my tennis, I focus with my tennis."
He has played it very well for a long time; Ferrer spoke proudly yesterday of having been in the top 15 for almost five years, of reaching a high of four last February, and of how happy that made him. "For me it's important. I'm enjoying playing tennis."
Not that anyone but the aficionados have taken much notice. Were you to compile one of those "10 Things You Didn't Know About …" lists newspapers are so fond of, it could contain pretty much anything beyond Ferrer being Spanish and a tennis player.
In a nutshell, David Ferrer (pronounced dah-VEED fuh-RER) is 26, lives in Valencia because his coach is there, but spends much of his spare time with his family in their village of Javea, an hour from the orange-growing mecca on the Mediterranean Sea. His dad is an accountant, mum a school teacher, brother a former national 12 and under champion, and he is a mad Barcelona fan.
There has been just one Ferrer story of interest, albeit a beauty. His work ethic was not always so high, and as a teen his mentor Javier Piles (who is still his coach) would lock him in a dark, two-metre by two-metre room when his attention wavered, occasionally slipping him bread and water through a small, barred window.
Somehow, he seems to have survived this novel training technique without becoming a total nutter. Yesterday the word he kept falling back on to describe himself was "normal", and he clearly wished the topic would move on to something else.
"I like staying home with my family, my friends, I am really quiet," Ferrer said when pressed. "In the court I am a little bit tension, but out of the court I am normal. Maybe the people speak about me, not me about me, OK?"
Miguel Luengo, who covers tennis for the Spanish national news agency Efe, says Ferrer is humble and shy — "a good talker, but with friends, not on the outside. It's a matter of personality." Tennis is his release, and the passion is more tangible with racquet in hand.
A signature moment came in November when, with Nadal resting an injured knee, Ferrer stepped up to be Spain's No. 1 in the Davis Cup final against Argentina. "Rafa's absence is a shame," he said before the tie, "but there is nothing else to do but to assume his place." Ferrer's loss to David Nalbandian was the only rubber Spain conceded in an emotional victory.
As he would wish, it is his tennis that has done the talking. Yesterday he swept aside the experienced Slovak Dominik Hrbaty 6-2, 6-2, 6-1 in a match so swift and easy it shocked him. Hrbaty has played rallies almost as long as the one hour, 14 minutes they spent on court.
"He's a great defender, a great runner, and you have to play really your best tennis," Hrbaty said later of Ferrer's simple strengths. "You have to make him run, play offensive, because when you play defensive he's not really making too many mistakes. Also he's a great fighter."
Ferrer has downplayed his place among the elite — Luengo says he described himself as "the worst top 100 in history", a self-deprecation he updated upon reaching the top 10 — but Hrbaty says his reputation in the locker room is secure. "Once you get to top 10, it means something in tennis."
The headlines in Spain, of course, will have been dominated by Nadal's sweeping dismissal of Christophe Rochus the night before. Or whether Spain's No. 3 man, Fernando Verdasco, still has Ana Ivanovic on his arm. Being sandwiched between this pair can't be easy (Nadal and Verdasco, not Verdasco and Ivanovic), but Ferrer doesn't seem to mind.
Beyond tennis last year, Verdasco posed nude to raise awareness of men's cancer. Ferrer, meanwhile, continued his habit of keeping every book he reads. And was perfectly happy that nobody noticed.