MADRID—Alexander Zverev and David Ferrer were perfect counterparts on Wednesday night in Madrid. The veteran 37-year-old on his way out was playing against a 22-year-old upstart defending champion. Zverev, the favorite on paper but not in the hearts of the Spanish fans, won 6-4, 6-2.
"I was very tired. And to win against Zverev you have to be in full condition, you have to be very fit, that is the reality," Ferrer said. "And it's a reality that physically I cannot play more than two straight matches at the level that I would like to play and that is another symptom that says that my life as a tennis player is finishing. But I have been very lucky to be able to choose the moment, the place, and to share it with all of you and with all the people that I love."
Ferrer was playing in the final tournament of his nearly 20-year career. Ranked as high as No. 3 in 2013, he entered the ATP Masters 1000 ranked No. 144.
Zverev is the current world No. 3 but enduring his first significant career slump. He hasn’t won consecutive matches since Acapulco in February when he reached the final. Ferrer has experienced many ups and downs: He’s reached a Grand Slam final (at the 2013 French Open) and endured losing streaks, most recently a five-match skid in 2018.
"Everyone has to pursue their own path and a way of working out things. In my case, at the end, what I learned is that normally you learn from defeats, from the losses, the tough moments, because you have to miss a lot of time, you have to taste defeat, you have to stand up and continue and keep on working," Ferrer said. "That was what was driving me to be the tennis player that I am today."
Zverev has been the fastest-rising prodigy of the ATP Next Gen. Before turning 22, he won three ATP Masters 1000s and captured the ATP Finals last November. He’s never experienced a ranking slide.
While the German was the defending champion, Ferrer is one of Spain’s greatest heroes. Cheers for Ferru echoed all around the Magic Box from the very first game. Even official volunteers tasked with ushering spectators to their seats couldn’t help but fist pump every point Ferrer won.
An upset wasn’t out of the realm of possibility. The two had already played twice in 2019 with Ferrer ousting the 22-year-old in Miami and losing during Zverev’s last good week, in Acapulco in February.
Ferrer got the first break for 3-1 with a Zverev double fault but couldn’t hold on, hitting his own double fault to give the break right back for 4-3. It was all Zverev from there, breaking at 5-4 and again for 1-0 and 3-0. Things looked dire for the Spaniard, and he knew it, soaking in the crowd’s support when he went down triple break point at 5-2.
Zverev could have lost this match—defending champion and all—and it would have been justified given the amount of respect Ferrer gets on tour. Earlier this week stars like Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal came out for a special presentation to celebrate his career.
Another presentation followed his final career match on Wednesday with a home crowd cheering him out and giant banners dropping from the rafters. A demure Zverev was at a loss for words.
“Usually I’m quite good at interviews but I don’t know what to say right now,” Zverev said. “A lot of players are sad he’s retiring. It’s a privilege for me to be here right now playing against you in your last match, unfortunately.”
Zverev has a memorable match with Ferrer to remember forever, on top of this one. He got a lesson from the 27-time ATP champion in his first semifinal in 2014.
“For me you started my career,” Zverev said about losing to Ferrer 6-0, 6-1 in Hamburg in 2014. “This helped me a lot. You’re a big part of why I play so well right now.”
Zverev will try to continue to play well against Hubert Hurkacz in the third round, while Ferrer will close this chapter of his life and take these memories home with him forever.
"It's been a very emotional night. It's been completely different to any other important moment in my life that I have experienced previously. I was not expecting it," Ferrer said. "The reality has been more than fiction, I never had expected a goodbye or farewell like today."