French Open clay is a different kind of battleground. Having reached the final of Roland Garros last year, David Ferrer is clearly a contender to make a deep run at this year’s tournament, and a dangerous man in the draw. With eleven of his twenty-one titles, and fourteen out of twenty-two runner-up finishes coming on the red dirt, Ferrer clearly feels comfortable on the surface. With eight of his fourteen runner-up finishes the result of facing Rafael Nadal, who is arguably the greatest clay court player ever, Ferrer is still clearly ahead of most of the field on the surface.
Last year’s run saw him defeat formidable opponents with relative ease, including Spanish clay-court specialist Albert Montanes, hard hitting South African Kevin Anderson, former world number five Tommy Robredo and the ever-dangerous Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Ferrer was is such good form he reached his first ever Grand Slam last year without dropping a single set.
This year’s clay court season has shaken up the usual order of things. Rafael Nadal is clearly not the dominant figure on the surface he used to be with early round losses in Barcelona and Monte Carlo, where he lost in straight sets to Ferrer. That defeat was only the second time Ferrer has beaten the King of Clay on the surface (also Stuttgart, 2004), and could be the mental edge he needs to break through to a title this year.
In the past Ferrer has played a lot of tennis leading up to the French Open, but his early exits in the tournaments leading up to the second Grand Slam of the year might be a blessing in disguise. In last year’s final Rafael Nadal never gave him a chance, and was clearly the stronger of the two. This year however, Ferrer should be well rested and more confident despite his own losses. If he should face the defending champion, who is in the same quarter of the draw, Ferrer could prove to be a dangerous man.
Ferrer has a relatively easy draw at this year’s French Open, facing the Netherlands’ Igor Sijsling in the first round. Deeper in the week he could possibly clash with rising star Grigor Dimitrov or clay court specialist Nicolas Almagro who he trounced in the semifinals of Buenos Aires earlier this year. The danger and real challenge lies in a possible quarterfinal match against Nadal. If he makes it through that match potentially he could face Australian Open champion Stan Wawrinka or Britian’s Andy Murray.
Ferrer’s losses on clay this year have been largely the result of opponents hitting their best form while Ferrer played average. His losses include a tough three set loss to an in-form Kei Nishikori in the semifinals of Madrid, an endurance testing fall against eventual tournament winner Novak Djokovic in Rome and a semifinal exit against eventual winner Stan Wawrinka in Monte Carlo.
These losses mean far less than the may appear due to the five set structure of a Grand Slam. With Ferrer’s tip-top physical conditioning and dogged determination, even his average game on clay is top five in the world. If he can find the sweet spot in his rhythm like he did last year, and notch a few big wins early, David Ferrer could go all the way to the final.
Facing off against the best in the world at the French Open is not as daunting a task when you are one of them. David Ferrer, having reached his first Grand Slam in Paris last year knows what it takes. Victory over the defending champion Rafael Nadal on his favorite surface earlier this year, shows he has the skill to win. The rest of the draw presents plenty of challenges, but it also better look out for Ferrer’s trademark inside-out forehand and never-say-die attitude on every point. Well rested for the French Open, David Ferrer at his best is a very dangerous man.
Commentary by John Benjamin Wilson