ATP World Tour Finals 2011: Dogged Ferrer stuns Djokovic

World No5 David Ferrer defeats Serbia's Novak Djokovic 6-3 6-1 to qualify for the last four of the ATP World Tour Finals

david ferrer
Ferrer joined Roger Federer in the semi-finals in London Photo: Marianne Bevis

david ferrer

David Ferrer, so often in the shadow of his compatriot Rafael Nadal, for once took the limelight in the opening rounds of the ATP World Tour Finals with one of his finest wins over the player of the year and world No1, Novak Djokovic.

For the second night in succession, the vociferous crowd at the O2 were kept in their seats for the minimum of time. It was not completed with quite the killer strike of Roger Federer over the Spaniard’s Davis Cup colleague Nadal””that one took just an hour””but it was close: two sets and 75 minutes.

On paper, the outlook was not auspicious. This year, Ferrer has produced one of his finest seasons in almost four year, reaching No5 via two titles and the finals of four more tournaments, most recently the Shanghai Masters. He also reached the semi-finals of a Grand Slam for only the second time in Australia.

But he was up against the superlative 2011 record of Djokovic: 10 titles, three of them Slams and five of them Masters: a win-loss tally of 70 to four. And although Djokovic withdrew midway through Paris with a shoulder injury, he assured everyone at London that it was now fine: “I have been serving at 100 per cent in the last three days and for me the shoulder is fine at this moment and I can say it is recovered and ready to compete again.”

However, in beating Andy Murray in his opening match in London, Ferrer overturned one set of stats””he had never beaten the Scot in five attempts on hard courts. Clearly, then, it was possible for him to confound his negative head-to-head of five-to-one over Djokovic on the same surface, though there were probably few who believed he would.

The start was edgy and by the time they reached 2-2, both had faced break points and both had survived. Come the seventh game, however, and Ferrer was picking up the Djokovic serve more easily and punishing anything other than perfect direction and pace.

The Spaniard has noticeably upped his attacking skills in the last 18 months and he deployed them not only on return of serve but also once points extended into rallies, pummelling his cross-court ground strokes from the baseline. His aggressive tactics and hustling around the court yielded two break points and he forced a volley error from his opponent. He had the break, but he was not done there.

Another element of Ferrer’s game that has become more effective is his serve and, for a small man of just 5ft 9in, he can pack a punch and find some difficult angles. He held serve to 15 and promptly forced Djokovic to deuce again, helped not a little by a rising error count from the Serb: 13 of them. Ferrer broke again to take the set, 6-3.

The differences in their already-contrasting styles became more pronounced. With the confidence of two breaks and a set to his name, the terrier-like Ferrer bristled with energy as his compact muscular frame strode back and forth, anxious to get on with the business in hand. He is one of the most self-contained players on the tour, rarely distracted by his surroundings and talking only to himself.

If Ferrer is a terrier, Djokovic has more the look of a greyhound, all lean limbs, long back and languorous movement until he explodes into action. When things are going wrong, he automatically shares his woes with his box, and that is exactly what began to happen as things unravelled for the Serb in the second set.

Ferrer bustled and chased while Djokovic seemed to lose energy, concentration and timing. The Spaniard broke at the first opportunity and held his own serve with an ace to lead 3-0.

Djokovic finally got on the board with the fourth game but dropped serve again in the sixth, as Ferrer began to find forehand winners that Djokovic himself would have been proud of. More surprisingly, Ferrer was the more willing to finish off points at the net””he did so six times by the time he took a 5-1 lead.

It was not the best time to produce a first double fault, and the crowd buzzed as Ferrer went down 0-30, but there was to be no comeback. Djokovic won not another point and Ferrer closed out the set, 6-1, in what he later described as “maybe the best match of the season.”

It guaranteed, too, that Ferrer became the first of Group A to qualify for the semi-finals, so who can blame him for enjoying the win, especially in his uniquely modest style: “It was a surprise, no? I am in the semi-final. I won Andy Murray and Djokovic and nothing else, no? I want to enjoy this moment.”

And it was a performance to be proud of, even against a weary-looking No1. Ferrer dropped only two points on his first serve in the match and won two-thirds of the points. Djokovic, whose fate in the competition now depends on the outcome of the remaining two matches, made an uncharacteristic 33 unforced errors””that’s two per game. No wonder he admitted “I’m embarrassed to look at the stats.”

He had no explanation for his lack-lustre response to the Ferrer attack: “I just wasn’t there. It was the worst match I’ve played this season so far. I’m not playing well, that’s a fact. This match, I have no words to explain.”

His last opponent of the Round Robin on Friday will be friend and fellow Serb, Janko Tipsarevic, who had a match point against Tomas Berdych before losing 2-6, 6-3, 7-6.

Ferrer will play Berdych and, while the result will not impede his own progress, it may affect Djokovic’s. This one will play out to the bitter end.

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