World Tour Finals: Ferrer d. Del Potro
If you didn’t know better while following the score of the David Ferrer vs. Juan Martin del Potro match at the ATP World Tour Finals, you might have guessed that that Ferrer is 6’6” and del Potro is 5’9”, when in reality those figures are reversed.
The harsh truth is that Ferrer was in control of this round-robin match from the start, and it was del Potro who fought the kind of rear-guard, guerilla battle—the type of resistance you expect from his smaller, lighter, more mobile opponent—that kept this match from becoming a blowout before the Spaniard sealed the win, 6-3, 3-6, 6-4.
Kudos to Ferrer, who bounced back from a long and successful week in Paris and played well enough to come up with the key shots when he needed them, despite uncharacteristic moments when his resolve seemed to falter. At those times, he made errors that enabled del Potro to see, and sometimes capitalize on, opportunities.
Serving first, Ferrer ducked a break point in the third game, and immediately broke del Potro in the next game with a backhand pass that forced a cross-court forehand volley error. That break was enough to see Ferrer through to the end of the set, by which time del Potro fans surely were weeping and gnashing their teeth.
Is there a player of comparable size and brawn who makes less good use of his natural gifts than del Potro? Half the time, it was the Argentine who was planted behind the baseline, playing defense, instead of moving into the court to take charge. Sure, Ferrer is a fantastic defender and counter-puncher, but did del Potro really think his power, when applied from so deep in his own territory, was a match for Ferrer’s speed and use of the court space?
Okay, Ferrer is ranked two places higher than No. 7 del Potro, and on paper is the favorite. But that must be of little solace to del Potro, who has something the hard-working Ferrer doesn’t—a Grand Slam title. Nevertheless, the first set of this match and the first two games of the second demonstrated why Ferrer had won all six sets the men had played this year. Del Potro simply refuses to take advantage of his natural gifts to dictate, rather than be dictated to, or is too timid to do so. At times, the extent to which Ferrer called the shots in this match was remarkable.
But the inevitable crisis for Ferrer occurred in the very next game, the third of the second set. Ferrer had four break points, but del Potro played big and saved every one of them—one with an ace, another with a forehand winner, still another with a service winner to the backhand, and yet another with a backhand down the line, the shot he must use more often that he did today.
Surviving that game stiffened del Potro’s resistance, while failing to convert those break points probably distracted Ferrer, who was broken in the next game. Ferrer knows better than anyone that you can’t allow del Potro to build up steam and play from out front, but it was too late. He rolled through the set, winning it on a deft forehand drop shot to end a rally.
But again, del Potro failed to capitalize on a chance to dominate and apply pressure. After a quick Ferrer hold, del Potro fell behind love-40, and he was ultimately broken by a forehand pass. The giant rallied a few games later and broke back in the seventh game, but he was still playing catch up.
Both men then held, but in one of those predictable if unexpected anti-climaxes, del Potro fell behind love-40 while serving to stay in the match at 4-5. It took Ferrer just one of those three match points to close the deal, thanks to a del Potro forehand error off a service return.
This was a tough loss for del Potro, who seemed to get his A-game back on track with an upset of Roger Federer in the Basel final a few weeks ago. Given that the other men in Froup B are Federer and Janko Tipsarevic, this match might very well have been for a place in the semis. And thus Ferrer just may have taken a giant step toward qualifying for the knockout stage of the tournament.