Miami Masters 2013: For Ferrer & Haas, a 2nd Masters title beckons
Miami Masters 2013: David Ferrer and Tommy Haas progress to the semi-finals as the pair continue their hunt for a second Masters title
In the first all-European quarter-final in the history of the Miami Masters, this was the day of the veterans as four experienced men competed for the first two places in the Sony Open Tennis semi-finals.
The first match placed No3 seed David Ferrer—just days from his 31st birthday—against another 31-year-old, Jurgen Melzer, unseeded and contesting his first Masters quarter-final since he hit his career-high ranking, No8, two years ago.
The evening match featured former world No2 Tommy Haas who, nearing his 35th birthday, played some of his best ever tennis to earn the scalp of world No1 Novak Djokovic. He now took on the guile and guts of 28-year-old Gilles Simon, 11 years a pro, 470 matches under his belt and a former world No6.
Ferrer had beaten Melzer in six of their eight meetings, but they were level at 1-1 on hard courts. However Melzer had a lot of running in his legs in Miami, despite having faced only one seed, No31 Marcel Granollers: Three of the Austrian’s four matches had taken three sets to decide.
Ferrer started, as he always does, briskly and bustling, and broke to lead 2-0, but Melzer hit back hard, taking the tennis to Ferrer with a big, swinging left-handed serve and plenty of net-rushing—signs of years of doubles success. Melzer went on a five-game tear as a frustrated Ferrer, unable to build any rhythm, sprayed uncharacteristic errors and expletives—earning a rare warning for his language.
But he dug in, broke, held, and then took a 40-15 lead before Melzer found some big serves to deflect the threat: The Austrian led, 6-4.
The stats favoured Ferrer—except one. Melzer, making 40 per cent of his shots from inside the baseline, played a dozen points at the net, preventing Ferrer from finding his usual pattern and rhythm.
Ferrer, though, has one of the most focused heads in tennis, the perfect partner to his seeminly boundless energy. He redoubled his effort to earn break points in the second and fourth games, finally converting for a 3-1 lead.
Melzer threw himself into his attack again, broke straight back but could not hold off three more break points in the sixth, and Ferrer hustled to a 6-3 set.
If Ferrer needed more encouragement it may have come from the Melzer face: The Austrian had worked himself into the ground. But Ferrer tracked down near-impossible shots to pound them back with interest—and in such a mood is almost irresistible. He raced to a stunning 6-0 third set.
Ferrer last reached the Miami semis in 2006, and now he faced the very real prospect of his first final in Florida—if he could beat Haas or Simon.
The tennis world was abuzz with the renaissance of Haas. Many younger fans, unfamiliar with the veteran’s back-story of early brilliance and a No2 ranking blighted by injury and surgery, were clearly excited by his all-court, retro style of tennis.
The older contingent was simply excited to see Haas back near the form that had beaten friend Roger Federer in five sets at the Australian Open in 2002 and eventually scoring his next win 10 years later in the Halle final last summer.
Even in such form, few expected Haas to dismantle Djokovic so thoroughly, so his chances against Simon looked considerably better—if his fitness and stamina could match his tennis.
Haas quickly proved that his body would pose no problem. He opened serve and, on game point, played a long, patient, tactical baseline rally against a man who epitomises such tennis, until the chance came to fire an off-forehand winner. It was a message sent loud and clear to Simon: ‘You will not wear me down.’
Haas almost broke in the fourth game, too, now breaking up the rhythm with some short, teasing balls, net points and finely-grooved backhand passing shots.
Simon had some surprises of his own in these early exchanges, hitting some fine down-the-line forehands and defending as well as Ferrer. But he was knocked back by the sudden changes of pace on the Haas return of serve and the break came after half an hour. Haas served out the set, via three net winners, 6-3.
Haas had already notched up 14 winners, nine of them at the net, despite Simon playing clean and near-error-free tennis—and the first game of the second set continued in the same vein. This time, Haas broke immediately with a reactive winning lob off his baseline, and that was his cue to go on the offensive.
He held to love, stepped a metre inside the baseline to receive, and broke again. Even during the occasional 30-stroke rally, it was Haas who had the tactical upper hand. A wayward Haas lob sealed one game for Simon, 1-4, so Haas switched his shirt to purple, as he had done against a resurgent Djokovic, and won six of the remaining eight points for a 6-1 win.
The stats would lift the heart of the most ‘retro’ fan: 15 points won at the net—indeed eight net winners from Simon, too—and a packed, fast-paced match that required no time warnings and ended with warm smiles on both sides of the net.
Next, though, comes a semi-final to savour between two veterans finding some of the best tennis of their careers.
Haas will be competing in the last four of a Masters for the first time since Paris in 2006 and aiming to win his first Masters since 2001. Ferrer, already a leader in match-wins this year, aims to back up his first Masters title in Paris at the end of 2012 with his third 2013 title.
What’s more, a place in the final in Miami could see Haas knocking at the door of the top 12 and Ferrer again challenging the absent Rafael Nadal for the No4 spot that he held so briefly earlier this year.
They have not met since Dubai in 2008, a win to Ferrer over a Haas returning from shoulder surgery. More than five years later, with a combined professional career of almost 30 years, Haas and Ferrer are separated by just one match win—514 to 513.
Read more about the enduring charms Haas and Ferrer.