Racquet Reaction

Roland Garros: Ferrer d. Robredo

Tuesday, June 04, 2013 /by
AP Photo
AP Photo

A tireless Tommy Robredo rode an inspired string of comebacks into the quarterfinals. Today, the 31-year-old ran into an old nemesis in no mood to be a role player in an ongoing French Open fairy tale. Studying each approaching ball with the scrutiny of an art student scrutinizing a master work in the Louvre, David Ferrer schooled the weary Robredo, 6-2, 6-1, 6-1, to stroll into the semifinals for the second straight year.

Merely reaching his fifth Roland Garros quarterfinal was an achievement for Robredo, who turned the art of the comeback into a monumental trek in becoming just the second man in history to come back from two sets down to win in three consecutive Grand Slam matches, joining Henri Cochet, who did it at the 1927 Wimbledon. Left with leaden legs from 12 hours and 14 minutes of punishing tournament play that included five-set wins over Igor Sijsling, Gael Monfils, and Nicolas Almagro, Robredo walked around the court with the creaky gait of a man who thought he had just completed a marathon, only to learn there were miles more to go.

The supremely-fit Ferrer made misery of the journey. Ferrer double-faulted on the first point, but began patiently probing the corners of the court to push Robredo, whom he'd beaten six times in eight meetings, into retreat. In the fourth game, Robredo fought off four break points—the third with a tremendous forehand winner and the fourth when Ferrer's return crawled across the top of the tape before plopping back on his side—but conceded an error off his one-handed backhand to face a fifth break point. In the 19-shot rally that followed, Ferrer danced around his backhand, drove a forehand down the line, and drew a netted forehand reply. Ferrer tapped a high forehand volley winner to back up the break and gain a 4-1 lead after 23 minutes of play.

As Ferrer found his groove on the forehand, Robredo was increasingly reduced to countering on the run, leaving his one-handed backhand exposed. Ferrer held at love, then found another gear. The fifth-ranked Spaniard is second on the ATP in return games won. Watch how often he puts so many deep returns back in play. That skill applied cumulative pressure on Robredo. When Ferrer lashed a flat forehand return winner down the line, he had triple-set point. Launching another forehand down the opposite sideline, Ferrer grabbed the first set in 33 minutes, winning 78 percent of the points played on Robredo's second serve.

Even when Robredo is at full strength, Ferrer is a nightmare opponent because he takes the ball earlier, has more stick behind his backhand, and controls that shot better when stretched. Combine that with his superiority attacking his opponent's second serve and defending his own second delivery, and you've got a toxic cocktail for Robredo. Ferrer stuck with an assortment of winners—an inside-out forehand, snapping serve winner down the T, and a blocked backhand down the line—for a commanding love hold, extending his second-set lead to 4-1. He closed the 30-minute second set with a 10-1 advantage in winners.

If you paid Ferrer $20 every time someone referred to him as "dogged", "tenacious", or "relentless", he could probably buy a piece of Versaille and throw a party for the Top 100. While his grit is an undeniable strength to his game, it's his attention to detail I appreciate. If you've watched him grow over the years, you've seen how hard Ferrer has worked to add sting to his first serve, solidify his volley, sharpen his piercing forehand and improve his court positioning. He has not dropped a set in reaching his sixth career Grand Slam semifinal and should celebrate seeing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, rather than Roger Federer, in the semifinals: Ferrer is 2-1 vs. Tsonga, permitting just five games in their lone clay-court meeting.

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