Tennis: Staying fit has kept Ferrer in world elite

By Dana Johannsen

Spanish champion has a healthy dose of realism about his place in the rankings

David Ferrer says consistency is very important for him. Photo / Sarah Ivey
David Ferrer says consistency is very important for him. Photo / Sarah Ivey

David Ferrer has come to be comfortable with being an anomaly in world tennis.

Ranked No 3 in the world, Ferrer sits alongside the likes of Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray in terms of ranking points, yet rarely is the Spaniard considered in the same company as the "big four". The only player inside the top five without a Grand Slam crown to their name, Ferrer is thought to be the least decorated consistent top 10 player in ATP history. At 31 Ferrer has no Grand Slam titles, no year-end championships and no Olympic medals. And he makes no apologies.

"Tennis is justice," the Heineken Open top seed said on the eve of the Auckland tournament. "I know it's difficult to be top 10 or to be No 3 in the world. I am lucky because Andy Murray was injured for three or four months, but I had a very good year (in 2013). I finished the year No 3 because I deserved it, I think I deserve to be No 3 in the world."

It hasn't always been the case for the slightly-built Spaniard. Previously Ferrer, a long-time visitor to the Auckland tournament, has appeared almost embarrassed with his place among the world tennis elite.

He'd dismiss his position as being the result of his ability to stay injury free as other top names battled ongoing concerns, or his heavy tour schedule that allowed him to play more matches.

Ferrer still has a healthy dose of realism when it comes to his place in the pecking order, but these days he isn't so dismissive of his abilities.

He recognises he doesn't have the dominant forehand stroke of Nadal, or Djokovic's blistering returns, or Federer's precision one-handed backhands, but Ferrer has come to see his low error-rate and ability to wear his opponents down as a valuable weapon.

"It is my game - consistency is very important for me. I don't have a power serve or a power shot, I need to fight every ball and to be aggressive in some moments but my game is a solid game, I know that," he said.

"I work very hard on my fitness. I have never had any big injuries - sometimes it is luck you know, but I work very hard."

Ferrer, who was honoured by Heineken Open organisers earlier this week as the four-time winner marks his 10th anniversary at the tournament, would dearly love to fill the notable gap in his CV in 2014, but he said winning a Grand Slam isn't something that consumes him.

"I keep going because I have motivation and passion for this sport," he said.

"To win a Grand Slam is very difficult in this moment I think with Djokovic, Roger and Rafa, they have dominated the last four or five years. It is not easy, I am older but I have motivation."

Last year Ferrer came the closest in his career to snatching a major championship win, reaching his first Grand Slam final at Roland Garros. He was defeated by his younger compatriot Nadal in straight sets, but it was nevertheless a crucial breakthrough for the veteran and possibly the key to his new-found confidence.

For now though the only title on his mind is a fifth Heineken Open crown.

Ferrer isn't just in Auckland as it is a nice low-key atmosphere for him to prepare for the Australian Open, he said he places great stock in trying to maintain his winning run in Auckland.

"It's a very special tournament for me because it is the first tournament of my career I won four times. I have had a lot of support from the people here and I like to repay that."

With the tournament shorn of several top names in the first couple of days with second seed Tommy Haas, fourth seed Kevin Anderson, sixth seed Benoit Paire along with wildcard Marcos Baghdatis wiped out early in the week, organisers will be hoping their key drawcard in Ferrer can stick around.

He provided some nervous moments in his second-round clash with promising young American Donald Young, but organisers can be assured the humble Spaniard intends to fight and scrap his way to a record-equalling fifth title.

- NZ Herald

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