Pity poor David Ferrer. When a player scores a huge win over a great champion, he usually gets to bask in glory for at least a week or two—and sometimes, much longer (Lukas Rosol is still 1-0 against Rafael Nadal; has been since July of 2012). The unfortunate Ferrer was granted just 72 hours to bask in the glow of his resonant win at the Paris Masters last week.
Nadal restored the natural order today in London with a comprehensive demolition of Ferrer in the first round of the ATP World Tour Finals. The score was 6-3, 6-2, and the one-hour and 15-minute match could have been more lopsided, with Nadal enjoying a 5-0 lead in the second set. Perhaps feeling a twinge of pity for his good pal, he took his foot off the gas.
What can you say, it was a difficult position for Ferrer, emotionally as well as physically—akin to asking a mountaineer who had just successfully summited Mt. Everest to go back and give it another crack four or five days after his descent.
Everything that worked for Ferrer last Friday in Paris misfired today. The forehand that he was smacking inside-out with impunity didn’t land nearly as deep or as at great an angle today. The serve he used so judiciously was so-so today. His backhand wasn’t as sharp, and the sum of all these tendencies was an inability by Ferrer to open up the court for the inside-out forehand—or the down-the-line backhand.
That it might be a long day for Ferrer was evident in the first game, a break for Nadal. Yet Ferrer broke right back, and after two holds it appeared that the men might be settling in for another bitter baseline war of attrition. Surprisingly, Ferrer immediately fell behind 15-40, and surrendered the first break point when he ended a rally with a forehand error.
Going on a run during he won 13 of 14 points, Nadal held the next game at love for a 4-2 lead. But Ferrer regained his composure, ultimately holding for 3-4, and soon found himself serving to say in it at 3-5. Ferrer lost the first two points, then played an excellent forehand approach during a rally and barreled toward the net. On a dead run, Nadal sent a down-the-line forehand curving back into the court to drop good—whereupon Rafa turned to his player box and gently shook his fist like a man about to roll the die.
Clearly, Nadal didn’t want to offend his fellow countryman and pal by a more overt demonstration, but the gesture signified just how much Nadal wanted this win. Down set point at love-40, Ferrer was unable to keep a down-the-line backhand inside the court, and the first set was over in 35 minutes.
Given how things were playing out, it was hard to conceive that Nadal had never beaten Ferrer on an indoor court (0-2). But here Nadal was, creating a new template. He served more effectively than he’d done in Paris, and dictated the flow of the points by playing a more aggressive, flatter ball. Nadal held the first game of the second set, then capitalized on a Ferrer double-fault that gave him break point. He won the second game when Ferrer made a forehand approach error.
The rout was on. Nadal was so dominant that when Ferrer stepped in to serve at 0-3 in the second set, he was still looking to win just his sixth point of the match following a successful first serve. Nadal, by contrast, had won all but two of his own first-serve points.
In the blink of an eye it was 5-0, and after the pity interval Nadal won the match his third break of the set.