French Open 2015: Modest David Ferrer strikes 300th clay win in 50th Major

David Ferrer passed two new milestones in one match at the French Open on Tuesday, writes Marianne Bevis

One of the most consistent, high-achieving and modest men on the tennis tour, David Ferrer, passed two new milestones in one match in Paris today.

Playing in his 13th French Open, the world No8 embarked on his 50th consecutive Grand Slam—third among active players behind Roger Federer and Feliciano Lopez—and won his 300th match on clay—second only to Rafael Nadal.

He came and went almost in the blink of an eye on Court Suzanne Lenglen, where he took on Lukas Lacko. He was fortunate, perhaps, that his opponent had not won a clay-court match since May 2011, but even allowing for that, his progress was short and very sweet.

It took the 33-year-year old Spaniard 27 minutes to race through the first set, 6-1. After a quick switch of shirt from yellow to black, he took another 31 minutes to win the second, 6-3, breaking in the ninth game with a quite stunning forehand cross-court pass. Back in yellow for the third set, he continued to bustle in his own workmanlike fashion, head down, oblivious to everything but the job in hand, and broke early and decisively.

An ace took him to 4-1, he broke again for 5-1, and served out in just 24 minutes with an aggressive serve and net-rushing finish.

It is a sign of the man that he shook hands with Lacko with a ‘sorry’. It was another sign that, asked how important it was to save energy for the second week of the tournament, he countered: “Maybe not the second week, maybe second match.”

Yet it would be an upset of the highest order if he did not make the second week here, for his performances here have, if anything, improved with age: his first semi was run in 2012, the final in 2013, and a quarter run last year. He has come out of the 2015 draw reasonably well, too, and should make the quarters again—though there he could encounter the in-form Andy Murray.

Ferrer will not expect to get further than that. Even if he beats Murray, the path is likely to be blocked by the world No1 Novak Djokovic or the man in whose shadow he has lived for almost his entire career, Rafael Nadal. Just once has he overtaken his younger and more illustrious compatriot in the rankings, reaching a career-high No3 at the end of 2013.

He has, even so, beaten Nadal on clay, in Monte-Carlo last year. He won the first set against Nadal in the French Open quarters last year, too, and took him to three sets in Monte-Carlo this year. And his best Grand Slam performance? That final run here in 2013—losing, as have so many others on Paris’s terre battue, to Nadal.

Ferrer has already begun 2015 in fine form: a 33-7 run, with three titles from Rio, Doha and Acapulco. He has also reached the semi-finals in Barcelona and Rome, where he lost to Djokovic. But despite being 33, he is rarely asked—as Federer is—whether he has considered retirement. It seemed a good time to do so: “I don’t know. Now I am at a good moment. I began the season playing really well, winning a lot of matches, and I am only focusing on the moment. I don’t know when I will finish my career. The most important is my fitness. Don’t have important injuries… [so] looking forward.”

Even with those three titles, he was also quick to dismiss his recent form: “No, no. I think 2012 it was my best year.”

He did not even want to make a fuss about his 300th clay win: “Well, is not important. It’s just a number. But of course, it’s a lot of matches playing on clay courts, and nothing else [but] pride for that point.”

With that, his typically short press conference continued a further few minutes via equally abrupt Spanish questions, though he did touch on his next match, a tricky one against a rather better clay-court player than Lacko: “It will be a tough match, because Daniel Gimeno-Traver has an excellent forehand. He can deliver winners with his forehand. He’s brimming with confidence. He is mentally strong, and I know that this match will be extremely tough.”

With that, Ferrer was done, wanting nothing better than to be out of the hot-seat, the limelight. But fortunately for his many admirers, he is clearly set to light up Roland Garros—and any number of other tournaments—for a while yet.

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