Only last year, Ferrer had begun to talk of retirement after slipping outside the top 20 during 2009. But he picked himself up, dusted himself off and climbed back to a place in 2010â€™s WTFs for the first time since 2007.
And this year, he has gone from good to better as his efforts to bring something new to his tennis brought ever more success. His great strengthsâ€”unparalleled fitness, a consummate hustler with a head-down focusâ€”have been enhanced with an increasing willingness to come to the net, and he has also posted impressive serving stats for a man of his 5ft 9in stature.
As a result, he has notched up one of the best win-loss match records this yearâ€”50 to 14â€”behind only Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray. Even more telling, Ferrer trails only those three in his return game performanceâ€”an indication of the aggressive tactics of the bustling Spaniard.
Ferrerâ€™s only two Masters finals have come on clay, one of them this year in Monte Carlo, but his retooled all-court game has garnered good results on hard courts, too: a title in Auckland, semi-finals in the Australian Open and Tokyo, and the quarters in Miami. That same tennis has ensured his place in the World Tour Finals again as well as the No5 ranking for the first time in more than three years.
However, the hard courts of Shanghai were a difficult proposition for Ferrer first against Milos Raonic and later against Andy Roddick. In the semi-final he was tested by another big serve in the shape of his compatriot. Indeed, Lopez held a 6-1 advantage in their head-to-heads on hard courts, and Lopezâ€™s only previous Masters semi-final was in Shanghai in 2009 where he beat Ferrer.
Lopez, too, has made advances in his declared aim for his 31st year: to break the top 20. The big serve-and-volley left-hander holds second spot in the yearâ€™s stats for acesâ€”655â€”and started this semi-final at second on the ace leader-boardâ€”37.
In Shanghai, the tennis that this year pushed Djokovic in Dubai and Roger Federer in Madrid, and took him to the quarters of Wimbledon, was certainly flourishing.
And it was a fierce sense of desire to continue to break new ground that pervaded this match for both men.
Ferrer opened, and his net skills came into play immediately as he followed in his serve no fewer than four times to hold.
The Lopez serve, too, was in fine form. The fourth game, won to love, took him just 1 minute 11 seconds. It was immediately countered by a love game finished by an ace from Ferrer.
The only break point of the set came in the seventh game from a Ferrer double fault. He resisted the break and went on to serve to love again in the ninth.
In the inevitable tie-break, it was fireworks all the way as Ferrer stole an early lead only to see Lopez scorch the baseline with a backhand winner that had both smiling with disbelief.
Despite a continuing serve-and-volley attack from Ferrer, he could not hold off Lopezâ€™s aggressive tennis. They began the tie-break all square at 37 points but they ended it 44 points to 42 in Lopezâ€™s favour. The bigger man was a set up.
Ferrer could barely contain his frustration: He hit the net post in fury and picked up a warning for his efforts. But in typical Ferrer fashion, he began the second set with renewed determination and energy and broke Lopez for the first time in the third game with his first break point of the match.
Ferrer consolidated with a strong love service game and broke again to win the set 6-3, losing just one point on his first serve.
Come the third set and there was a sense of dÃ©jÃ vu about the Ferrer surge. He had pulled back from a set down in his previous two matches and he was again looking the stronger and more aggressive of the two.
Lopez had a chance to break in the third game but fluffed a volleyâ€”by this stage, he had made just 19 winners from 36 net approachesâ€”and the window closed. Ferrer lost only one more point on serve and broke Lopez to lead 5-3.
The energy of Ferrer is one of his most intimidating qualities and he did not slack for a moment in serving out the match to advance to his sixth final of the year, 6-3.
There is no doubt that Ferrer is on a roll this week. And while his game has become more complete and his focus more intense through the year, it is those new elements that have taken him to his first hard-court Masters final.
He produced 11 aces to Lopezâ€™s 12, attacked the net frequently and successfully, and he faced and saved only two break points in a match of over two hours. If anyone deserves the reward of a first Masters title, it is the hustler par excellence: Ferrer.
For Lopez, though, a career-high ranking beckons, and his evolution too deserves that place amongst the top 20 in the world.
MORE: The latest football news
MORE: The latest tennis news