Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald's chief sports reporter

Tennis: Ferrer keeps focus off record fifth title

David Ferrer from Spain, during a practice session in preparation for the ASB Classic. Photo / Brett Phibbs
David Ferrer from Spain, during a practice session in preparation for the ASB Classic. Photo / Brett Phibbs

An unexpected opening in David Ferrer's schedule has also opened the opportunity for the Spaniard to claim a record fifth singles tennis title in Auckland, but the world No7 is looking only as far ahead as his first hit-out on Wednesday.

Ferrer, who was a late inclusion in the ASB Classic field after his shock first-round exit in Doha last week, has the chance to surpass legendary Australian Roy Emerson should he triumph in Auckland this week.

"I am not thinking about that, I am only focused on my first match. Obviously it is a good goal, but it is far away, so I will take it step by step," said Ferrer, who won his first title in Auckland in 2007, and followed it up with three consecutive victories from 2011 to 2013.

Although Ferrer has been a regular supporter of the Auckland tournament, it wasn't his intention to be here this year. Not wanting to overdo it in the lead-up to the Australian Open, he requested a wildcard after meetings with ASB Classic tournament organisers last year, although it was agreed his presence would depend on his Doha results.

"I am 33 years old and I can't play everything," said Ferrer. "I am grateful to have this chance to play in Auckland."

With four players inside the top 12, and the eighth seed the world No25, the men's field is regarded as one of the strongest to grace the venue.

Ferrer faces stiff competition from French second seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who makes his first appearance, and towering two-time American champion John Isner. But the tenacious veteran finds himself on the opposite side of the draw to those two biggest threats, meaning they can only meet in the final.

Isner, the world No11, has described the field as "absolutely loaded".

"It's incredible when you look at the draw and you think 'how's this guy not seeded?'" he said.

"Four players in the top 12 speaks for itself. Eight in the top 25 -- it's pretty impressive. You're not going to find a tougher 250 [tournament] all year. It's great for us players. The competition is top notch."

The holder of 10 ATP titles, 30-year-old Isner claimed two of those in Auckland in 2010 and 2014. However, he was a no-show last year, citing tiredness after playing in the Hopman Cup -- just one of a string of late withdrawals to hit the tournament.

Isner said he was aware of the disappointment that caused.

"It was something I felt bad about and I still feel bad about," he said.

Isner and fellow top seeds Ferrer, Tsonga and South African Kevin Anderson won't be in action until Wednesday, with the top four ranked players all earning first-round byes.

The absence of big names from the first round makes for a fairly underwhelming start to the tournament today, with the local hopes the key drawcard on day one.

New Zealand No1 Finn Tearney will make his first ASB Classic appearance against American Donald Young after being granted a wildcard entry into the main draw, while American Jack Sock will also line up on centre court.

- NZ Herald

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