David Ferrer doesn't yet think he is a tennis legend - but the people of Auckland would beg to differ.
The 30-year-old Spaniard made history yesterday, comfortably disposing of second seed Philip Kohlschreiber 7-6(5), 6-1 and in the process equalled Roy Emerson's long standing record of four Auckland titles.
After a stellar 2012, where he claimed an ATP-leading seven titles, Ferrer has emerged from the shadow of Rafael Nadal and will go into tomorrow's Australian Open as the world No4 - but remains modest.
"I don't think I am a legend - Roy Emerson, Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, Murray they are - but not me," said Ferrer with a grin. "I am David Ferrer, I am very happy with my career and I am a legend in my home (but) not as a tennis player."
Still, in the uber-competitive world of modern tennis, it is a remarkable achievement. The last time Ferrer lost a match in Auckland, Phil Goff was the Labour leader, production of The Hobbit was yet to start and Aaron Cruden was a teenage skateboarder.
Since that second round defeat in 2010, Ferrer has been irrepressible at the Heineken Open, winning a hat-trick of titles (though tournament organisers deigned not to let him keep the trophy) to go with his victory in 2007.
After the match, Ferrer revealed he had received a congratulatory message from Emerson - who won 12 grand slam singles as well as titles in Auckland in 1960 and 1965-67 - and seemed touched.
"It is very special that a legend like Roy Emerson has sent me an email," said Ferrer.
Both finalists have now made nine appearances in Auckland and you had to feel for Kohlschreiber, who joked he was sick of the sight of Ferrer. "The tournament is great, everything is done well," laughed Kohlschreiber. "The only problem is that he (Ferrer) is always coming back."
Ferrer was happy to confirm that he will return for a shot at five: "Of course I will come back," said Ferrer, "I'm sorry for Philip but I will be back for every year that I can."
Like the best Spanish wine, Ferrer seems to get better with age. Only 12 tournaments on the ATP tour last year were claimed by men in their fourth decade - and Ferrer took four of them for the 30-plus club (Roger Federer claimed six).
The match, which was the first time since 1993 that the two top seeds had clashed in the final, threatened to be a classic early on. Kohlschreiber was on fire, breaking the top seed early and didn't drop a single point on his serve until the 23rd minute. Ferrer was hanging on but that's what he specialises in. He broke back to square the set (4-4) and from there began to find his range. Still, the German managed another break and was a point away from serving for the set at 5-4. At deuce, on Kohlschreiber's serve, he hit a perfect approach shot - which the never-say-die Ferrer retrieved from near the advertising hoardings - only to fluff a simple volley.
Ferrer didn't give another chance. He broke back almost immediately and dominated the subsequent tie-break, sprinting to a 6-3 lead. Kohlschreiber had been perfect in tie breaks last week (3/3) and saved two set points but Ferrer converted his third to take an entertaining set in 52 minutes.
"The first set was the key - he was serving for (it) but didn't take his chance," said Ferrer, "and in the second I (could) play (with) more calm."
The nadir for the German came in the fourth game, when he hit a smash straight at Ferrer. The Spaniard resembled Jeetan Patel at the batting crease as he awkwardly fended it back, only for Kohlschreiber to duff the smash.
Ferrer unleashed from here - producing one of the shots of the week in the penultimate game with a slashing cross court forehand. The second set was over in less than 30 minutes and ended - somewhat appropriately with a disillusioned Kohlschreiber framing a ball hundreds of metres into the air - while Ferrer turned to raise his arms skywards in triumph.
Ferrer has no time to rest - Australian Open organisers have scheduled his first round match with Oliver Rochus for tomorrow - but he wasn't worried.
"It is the life," said Ferrer, (anyway) I would happily play on Monday (there) every year if it meant I won the tournament here."By Michael Burgess Email Michael