Ferrer’s Iron Will
by Robert Davis
Spaniard David Ferrer, who makes his third appearance at the circuit finale, is on course for his second Top 5 finish.
David Ferrer may lack the flash possessed by many of his fellow Spaniards, but he has quietly maintained his place among the game’s elite with a determination that is second to none.
David Ferrer is fast. Born with a bloodhound-like ability to track a shot down, the World No. 5 from Spain chases ball after ball till a man has to smash it out of the court just to win the point. Even then it is not guaranteed that the man from Valencia will not hop a sponsor’s sign or leap a fence just to bat the ball back one more time. Each and every player in the locker room knows that it takes quite the effort for the ball to bounce twice on David Ferrer’s side of the court.
You don’t need to see David Ferrer play a tennis match at all to know what makes him special. All you really need is to watch his pre-match warm-up. There is no difference between that and the final set tie-break. On the tennis court, David Ferrer does nothing half-hearted.
From the first stroke your eyes are drawn to those light, effortless and infinite split steps that are the hallmark of Spanish tennis. You can count the number of times his heels touch the court on one hand. And chances are that is when he is taking a water break. Then there are the strands of brown hair flopping over his white bandana and the swollen calves, which appear to have been inflated by an air compressor, which power quite possibly the best footwork on the tour. The footwork is just the tip of the iceberg though, because there is so much more to David Ferrer lying beneath the surface.
Ask any of the boys on the ATP World Tour what they admire most about David Ferrer and they all say the same thing; no matter the score he always gives 100 per cent. And with a game like Ferrer’s, where the workload is heavy, that is saying heaps. To say that Ferrer stays in the moment is an understatement. For him each and every point is equal to or greater than the next one.
“It is very nice to know that my colleagues respect me for giving my best,” says the 29 year old, taking a break from reading in the players’ lounge. “It is the least that I can do. There are good days and bad days, but I think the minimum that a professional tennis player can do is to fight to the end. I love this sport and have a lot of respect for the past champions that have come before me. It is not only my job to fight, but my honour as well. And I must do it till that last point. The sport of tennis is one of respect and I feel that if I respect tennis and my fellow players, then I have done my duty.”
Like a bulldog with his teeth sunk into a T-bone, so does David Ferrer play tennis. Unlike other players, he is not tempted by the open court nor does he rush into the net. He has an almost sadomasochistic desire to run till his lungs burst. His shot selection is like a corner breakdown drill gone bad. A mad man attempt to force you to throw down your racquet and wave the white flag of surrender. The way Ferrer scampers around the court hitting forehands, you are almost left to wonder if he has a backhand at all. But he does have a backhand and a mighty good one at that. Unlike the smooth rainbow arc of his forehand drive, David Ferrer prefers to launch his shoulders and hips into the double-fisted backhand and take the ball early, flattening it out. One thing is for sure, whatever comes off his racquet you are going to get the full charge of his shot.
David Ferrer does not do flash very well. He does not possess Fernando Verdasco’s flair, or Feliciano Lopez’s fan club, or even Nicolas Almagro’s firepower. But what he does do very well is win tennis matches. And in Spain, where looking good takes a back seat to results, that is gold. With Ferrer you get a man who comes to work each day carrying his hard hat, lunch box and eager to punch the time clock.
According to Pat Etcheberry, fitness trainer to past greats like Pete Sampras, Jim Courier and Justine Henin, that is also talent.
“Oftentimes people put too much emphasis on strokes,” says Etcheberry. “But working hard day in and day out is also a talent. And that might be harder than just hitting the ball pretty.”
“Tennis is one of the most honest sports to judge because it has a ranking,” says Ferrer. “Yes, there are players who have bigger serves or better strokes than others, but you don’t get ranked by talent, you get ranked by results. Physical fitness and competing consistently is also added into the equation. Yes, I think it is nice to watch a player stroke the ball beautifully. But there is more to tennis than just hitting the ball nicely. Whether you hit pretty or ugly, talented or not, success in tennis depends on many factors.”
In Spain, tennis is judged by Grand Slam trophies. If only other countries could be so lucky.
“It is normal for the people to talk of Rafa,” says Ferrer. “Spain has always had great players like Carlos Moya, Juan Carlos Ferrero, Sergi Bruguera, Albert Costa, Emilio [Sanchez] and others. For sure, Rafa is the greatest player in the history of Spain. He has helped us Spanish players so much, because if he had not been there, there might not have been as great an interest from the general audience. Rafa has been great for our nation and for our sport and we have all improved because of him.”
Back in the players’ lounge, David has his head in a book again. It’s a thriller by British writer Ken Follett. Tomorrow it might be a novel by Mario Vargas Llosa. Or maybe a mystery by Agatha Christie. The next day it is a self-help book, and after that it is a biography of Lance Armstrong. David loves them all. “I want to read books that will help me improve as a person and not just a tennis player,” he says.
“The sport of tennis is one of respect and I feel that if I respect tennis and my fellow players, then I have done my duty”There are no Dr. Phil moments in Spain. If you had gone astray in the desert and were dying of thirst and along came a Spanish tennis coach, he is more likely to scold you for being lost than he would give you a drop of water. If positive reinforcement is what you are seeking, you would be better off going to France. While the French will tell you how great you can be, the Spanish will tell you how bad you are. And, Javier Piles, David Ferrer’s coach, is no exception. About the only time he smiles is when Ferrer wins. And even then it is not guaranteed.
“He has an incredible will to learn,” says longtime coach Piles. “He wants to learn in everything. But most importantly, he wants to know why he is No. 5 and not No. 4. He wants to be critiqued. He does not want praise, he wants information on how to get better. There have been so many times that I have been proud of him. The match versus [David] Nalbandian in ’07 [at the US Open] and so many others. But what I am most proud of David is how he continues to seek knowledge. And also, his respect for the sport. I am proud to be his coach.”
“For me, success in life means when you have all that you have dreamed of and all that you work for,” says Ferrer. “Tennis has given me much more than I ever dreamed possible. I hope that I have given something back to tennis.”
Ernest Hemingway once wrote, ‘Man is not made for defeat.’ We know that Hemingway never saw David Ferrer play a game of tennis, but had he it is likely that the great American writer who loved all things Spanish would have nodded in approval at the man from Valencia. Just like the heroes in Hemingway’s novels, David Ferrer lives and dies in the arena with his ‘manhood and honour’ intact. Good day or bad day, David Ferrer gives you his best stuff. And that is as sure a sign of victory as it gets; for David Ferrer accepts that on any given day he can be beaten, but what he will never accept is defeat.