World Tour Finals: Federer d. Ferrer
The other day during a press conference in London, David Ferrer ticked off the ways his game doesn’t match up very well with that of Roger Federer (hence, the 0-13 record Ferrer carried into today’s match against the Swiss champ) and wound up his discourse with a very frank but typical confession.
“He is just a better player than I am,” Ferrer concluded.
True. And Ferrer knows as well as anyone that in order to topple a better player, you’d better hope he brings his B-game on the day when you bring your A-game and, preferably, your A-spirit. Today in London, the Mighty Fed brought his B-game alright. But once again Ferrer left his best game behind, and he also looked very little like a man riding the emotional wave of 11 straight wins.
Hence, another straight-sets victory for Federer, 6-4, 7-6 (5).
Ferrer was a pale imitation of the gritty, determined competitor we saw in Paris. When he managed to play well, and with authority, it was from behind. It was already too little, too late. Case in point: Ferrer had numerous break points in the first and third games of the first set (five, by my count), while a sleepy Federer was still trying to unlimber the serving arm that would ultimately play the decisive role in the match. Ferrer converted none in that stretch; Federer saved nine of 10 break points he faced in the match. By contrast, Federer saw one break point in Ferrer’s first service game and promptly cashed it in by sticking a service return that forced a forehand error.
However, let’s not forget that there are also concrete, technical, and tactical reasons for Federer’s continued mastery of Ferrer. The most notable of those is one so obvious that it’s easy to overlook.
Federer plays right on the baseline, or from just inside it, while Ferrer plays behind it—a strategy justified by his foot speed and ability to play defense. But Federer also consistently hits more accurately and aggressively, and opens up the court by hitting sharper angles. Ferrer’s margin of error is a wide one, but the tendency to hit with less depth and further inside the lines is ambrosia for Federer. It just tees the ball up for him to make shots—tough shots, to be sure, but his fate is firmly in his own hands.
That third game, with Federer serving at 2-0, lasted nearly 10 minutes and, Federer converted just three of 18 first serves (the winner’s first-serve conversion percentage in the first set was a woeful 40 percent). The sigh of relief he breathed when he won the epic game did not provide comfort for long: Ferrer held quickly, and then broke just as expediently to put the match back on serve, with Federer leading 3-2.
That one-game lead held up right into the 10th game, with Ferrer serving to stay in it. Ferrer’s resolve vanished into thin air in that game, and he fell behind 0-40 thanks to two errors and a Federer forehand winner. Ferrer’s castle fell on the first set point, when the world No. 2 blasted yet another inside-out forehand to Ferrer’s backhand corner, forcing a retrieval error.
Federer began to find his serve in the second set, but Ferrer also settled into a slightly more belligerent posture. But neither man was playing well enough to take control: The fourth game, with Ferrer serving at 1-2, was emblematic.
In that one, Ferrer fell behind swiftly and served up a double fault to present Federer with a break point. Federer then made three ugly backhand errors, including a monstrous shank, to let Ferrer off the hook. It would be the only break chance of the set for either man until the tiebreaker.
In that, Federer stoned a volley to give up the mini-break on the very first point, but Ferrer gave the advantage right back with a backhand error. The next mini-break was against Ferrer, who made an unforced backhand error to go down 2-4.
Cue the “too little, too late” theme song.
Ferrer hung in there over the next series of points, even as Federer served with increasing authority (he won the points that gave him leads of 5-3 and then 6-3 with, respectively, a service winner and an ace). Ferrer fended off two match points on his own serve, but that still left Federer with another at 6-5, with serve. He bombed Ferrer’s backhand with a serve for which the Spaniard had no answer to advance to Saturday's semifinals.
The tally is now 14-0 in Federer’s favor, and it doesn’t look likely to change any time soon.