David Ferrer has been coming to Auckland every January since 2006. It's what he does.
The world No 5 will return in January to chase a third-straight Heineken Open title and a fourth overall. Only the great Roy Emerson won three in a row (1965-67) and four in total.
It wouldn't surprise if Ferrer achieved that, and it would be a popular victory. The diminutive Spaniard is a favourite in Auckland and fans don't tire of seeing him, even though it will be his ninth appearance in New Zealand's premier tennis tournament.
"I will go there, I like a lot that tournament," Ferrer told Radio Sport. "I won three times and I enjoy it. I like to play there.
"(It's) very difficult to win again [in] Auckland. I will try to do my best.
"I like the city, I like the people and ... I am very happy to come back again."
Ferrer was announced yesterday as the headline act for the Heineken Open. Also confirmed are former world No 7 Mardy Fish and Belgium up-and-comer David Goffin, who has risen more than 120 places in 2012 to sit 43rd in the world.
Fish played in Auckland in 2007, when he was beaten by Ferrer in the semifinals, and is a six-time winner on the ATP Tour and Athens Olympics silver medallist.
He's presently ranked 26 but last year peaked at No 7 after making the quarter-finals at Wimbledon.
"He's an all-court player with a strong net game, which will certainly add variety to an event normally dominated by the baseliners," tournament director Karl Budge said.
Further announcements will be made in the coming weeks. Regulars Nicolas Almagro (11), Juan Monaco (12) and Philipp Kohlschreiber (19) are likely to be among them but Budge was hoping a surprise was on the cards.
"There are a few more irons in the fire," he said. "I think you will see some top-20, top-30 players coming out.
"I'm pretty excited about bringing someone who hasn't been here in the last couple of years."
They will all come hoping to tip Ferrer from his perch. The 30-year-old is some way behind the Big Four (Djokovic, Federer, Murray and Nadal) but he's easily the next best on tour with a considerable gap between him and Tomas Berdych in sixth on the rankings.
He enjoyed his best season on tour in 2012, winning six tournaments (three more than any other year) and reaching the quarter-finals or semifinals in all four grand slams. He was also the first player to win 50 matches this year.
It's easy to see why he comes back year after year because, as top seed, he receives a first-round bye before usually three more matches against middling opposition. It's a perfect buildup for the Australian Open and a formula that is clearly working for him.
It would, however, be easy for him to pick up more money playing somewhere else.
"David's loyalty to this tournament is outstanding," Budge said. "What he could potentially get across the Tasman is certainly more than I can offer so his loyalty should be valued.
"He's really happy. It's a relaxed environment and he feels really comfortable starting his year in Auckland."
Auckland appears to feel comfortable with him, too.
- APNZBy Michael Brown Email Michael