UPDATE: David Ferrer's retirement will wait another day. The 37-year-old defeated fellow Spaniard, Roberto Bautista Agut, 6-4, 4-6, 6-4, on Tuesday in Madrid. He'll face Alexander Zverev in the second round.
Elvis Presley’s timbre cuts through when he croons, “Home is where the heart is, and my heart is anywhere you are.”
For professional tennis players, devotion is focused on the mastery of their craft. Airports, gyms, hotels and practice sessions are the date nights. Fans are the adoring admirers. Courts are the sanctuaries where comfort is sought. And matches are the ballads evoking butterflies, heat, elation and sorrow.
This week, David Ferrer will play one final tournament before taking off his bandana to make room in his heart for passions beyond tennis. Fittingly, the Javea, Spain native is bidding adieu on home soil at the Mutua Madrid Open, his country’s most prominent event. Competing in an era that has frequently placed Ferrer in the shadows of ruthless Goliaths—compatriot Rafael Nadal, top-ranked Novak Djokovic and fellow 37-year-old contemporary Roger Federer—this week is about celebrating David.
In the absence of imposing power, the 5’ 9’’ Ferrer was ferocious in his work ethic. Every ball chased with hunger. Every shot hit with intention. His determination resulted in peaking at No. 3 in the ATP rankings and collecting 27 singles titles, including the Rolex Paris Masters in 2012. Ferrer qualified for the year-end ATP Finals on seven occasions, including six in a row between 2010-15, and was a key member of three Davis Cup championship teams.
He reached the Roland Garros final in 2013, ultimately falling to Nadal. Ferrer faced off against Nadal 22 times on clay, posting just two wins. Every showdown except their recent Barcelona clash occurred in the quarterfinal stage or later, a further testament to Ferrer’s commendable consistency and the magnitude of Nadal’s presence. Ferrer, a two-time semifinalist at the Australian Open and US Open, sits 12th in Open Era career match wins. Only Federer, second; Nadal, fifth; and Djokovic, eighth rank ahead amongst active players. Though he often bowed down to the aforementioned trio, Ferrer is a worthy candidate for an alternative GOAT conversation: grittiest of all time.
In honor of Ferrer’s retirement, we revisit a few players who also enjoyed sendoffs on home soil.
Nearly a year ago, Vinci called it a career at the Foro Italico in Rome. The Italian, who achieved a career Grand Slam in doubles with Sara Errani, was a member of four Fed Cup-winning teams and stunned Serena Williams in the 2015 US Open semifinals, was defeated in the first round by Serbian qualifier Aleksandra Krunic 2-6, 6-0, 6-3. “I was happy about the crowd, and my parents, my team and all my friends were there. I lost, I know, but I was happy and this is what I wanted,” Vinci said following the match.
On August 30, 2012, his ‘Golden Birthday’, Andy Roddick took the tennis world by surprise when revealing he would retire following the US Open. The last American man to hold a Grand Slam singles title and the No. 1 ranking, Roddick advanced to the fourth round before succumbing to fellow US Open titlist Juan Martin del Potro, 6-7 (1), 7-6 (4), 6-2, 6-4. Clearly emotional and grateful for the moment, Roddick addressed Arthur Ashe Stadium with, “I love you guys with all my heart. Hopefully I'll come back to this place someday and see you all again.”
Having competed in 62 consecutive Grand Slam main draws, capturing three Grand Slam doubles titles and becoming the first Asian woman to reach No. 1 in doubles, Ai Sugiyama was a beloved champion in Japan. During September 2009 in Tokyo, Sugiyama began her farewell event with an on-court ceremony and was most touched by the appearances of her peers, which included Daniela Hantuchova, Elena Dementieva, Dinara Safina and Francesca Schiavone. “They gave me a really warm-hearted message. That hit me really badly. My tears couldn't stop it. It was really special,” Sugiyama reflected afterwards. Sugiyama later advanced to the doubles final with Hantuchova.
Before there was Andy Murray, four-time Wimbledon semifinalist Tim Henman carried the weight of a nation on his shoulders. A player who connected with his country, evidenced by spirited fans packing ‘Henman Hill’ over the years, the former world No. 4 appropriately went out by winning two Davis Cup rubbers (one singles, one doubles) on No.1 Court at SW19. “I knew how important this match was for the team, not just me. I've had a few good scripts over the year but this is right up there, hitting the winner to seal the Davis Cup victory is brilliant.”, Henman said after leading Great Britain into the World Group over Croatia.
There was not a dry eye in the house when eight-time major champion Andre Agassi tearfully said goodbye at the 2006 US Open. In the second round, the 36-year-old edged Marcos Baghdatis, that year’s Australian Open finalist, in a gripping five-setter. Benjamin Becker ultimately ended Agassi’s career with a 7-5, 6-7 (4), 6-4, 7-5 victory in the following round, but the result was soon forgotten. Agassi took the microphone to deliver 50 seconds of raw, heartfelt emotion that will be played over and over for generations to come.
“The scoreboard said I lost today. But what the scoreboard doesn't say is what it is I have found. Over the last 21 years, I have found loyalty. You have pulled for me on the court and also in life. I found inspiration. You have willed me to succeed, sometimes even in my lowest moments. And I've found generosity. You have given me your shoulders to stand on, to reach for my dreams, dreams I could never have reached without you. Over the last 21 years, I have found you, and I will take you and the memory of you with me for the rest of my life.”
Pete Sampras defeated rival Andre Agassi to win the 2002 US Open for his 14th major title. It would be his last tournament appearance, but Sampras did not announce his retirement until a year later at Flushing Meadows.
1996 Wimbledon titleholder Richard Krajicek played his final event at 's-Hertogenbosch, in the Netherlands. The 17-time ATP singles champion, who battled right elbow pain in recent seasons after undergoing three knee surgeries, decided his health had taken its toll following a first-round loss to Olivier Mutis in June 2003, and retired two days later.
A depleting inner-ear virus initially cut Alicia Molik’s career short in 2008 before the Australian made a comeback, returning to the Top 100 in March 2010. The two-time Grand Slam doubles champion and Olympic bronze medalist would later hang up her racquet following the 2011 Australian Open.
Two-time major titlist Lleyton Hewitt planned to conclude his career at the 2016 Australian Open. The green-and-gold flag bearer went down to fellow counterpuncher Ferrer in the second round on Rod Laver Arena. Hewitt has since appeared in doubles draws at various events in each of the past two seasons.