Malaysian Open: David Ferrer presses for London with 25th title in 50th final
David Ferrer beats fellow Spaniard Feliciano Lopez 7-5 7-5 to win the Malaysian Open title
The final in Kuala Lumpur featured the two top seeds, No1 David Ferrer and No2 Feliciano Lopez, both Spanish, and both advancing well into their 30s not just gracefully but apparently with their tennis in as good a shape as ever in their combined 67 years on the tour.
Ferrer, currently in eighth place in the Race to London, has always been renowned for his fighting spirit, his supreme work ethic, his passion on court and quiet modesty off it. He is fleet of foot, strong of arm, determined in heart, a player who is admired as much by fellow players as by fans for maximising his 5ft 9in stature.
Seven-times a Masters finalist—winning the 1000 trophy in Paris in 2012—and a runner-up both at the World Tour Finals back in 2007, and at a Grand Slam, Roland Garros in 2013, Ferrer’s longevity and consistency have been writ large through 15 years on the pro tour. Now aged 33, he has played every Grand Slam bar one since 2003—made at least the semis six times, and the quarters 16 times. And when his rankings and results took a dip in 2009, he determined to work still harder—and two years later broke into the top five, and in 2013 hit a career-high No3.
It looked like more of the same this year, as Ferrer hurtled to three titles from his first four tournaments, made the quarters in Miami, Monte Carlo, Madrid and Roland Garros and the semis in Barcelona, but then he picked up a very rare injury that saw him manage just one match between the French and US Opens.
Still he arrived at the Kuala Lumpur his 50th career final with 43 match-wins for the year. And to give that achievement some context, only Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray have managed as many finals among active players.
He had beaten his final opponent, Lopez, in their last five matches, but all six of the 34-year-old Lopez’s had come on hard courts, and make no mistake, the elder Spaniard was also maturing like fine wine.
Lopez, who is second only to Federer in consecutive Grand Slam appearances—dating back to the 2002 French Open—hit a career-high ranking of No12 only this March, and reached his first US Open quarter-final in September. But unlike his compatriots, the playing style of Lopez has thrived better on grass, where the elegant 6ft 2in left-hander plies a serve-and-volley game rarely seen in Spain—or many other countries.
Yet he has never quite hit the heights of Ferrer—grass provides a short season and limited opportunities, though last year, Lopez reached the Queen’s final, won in Eastbourne and reached the fourth round at Wimbledon in one of his best ever runs.
The Lopez game was in fine form against the dangerous Australian Nick Kyrgios, a two-tie-breaker-sets win comprising 12 aces, but his serve was less consistent in the final, while the Ferrer serve, an underestimated element of his all-court game, was solid.
However, it was Ferrer’s return of serve that impressed, and pressured Lopez almost from the start. The elder Spaniard had to hang tough to hold in the fourth and sixth games, and took the first advantage when Ferrer hit two uncharacteristically wayward forehands out. A sliced chip from Lopez brought up break point and Ferrer could not retrieve a deep baseline ball, conceding the break.
Now, though, Ferrer’s game came alive. He began to reach the Lopez serve with brilliance, slotting passes down the line and, tactically astute, dropping returns at the feet of the net-charging Lopez to draw error after error. Ferrer broke back, hit his own first ace to hold for 5-4, and returned like a magician to break again for the set, 7-5.
Lopez was immediately in trouble again on his opening serve in the second set, saving three break points. He stuck to his tactics, though, serve-and-volleying for all he was worth, and picking off some tough strikes from Ferrer, but he was under constant pressure from the dazzling returns of his opponent.
The set remained on a knife-edge, especially when Lopez earned his only break chance of the set at 5-5, but Ferrer again had the answer with a great scurrying backhand pass to hold, and roared himself on with more serve-breaking returns in the final game to break for the match, 7-5.
Ferrer was clearly ecstatic with his fourth title of the year, the 25th of his career: “I feel very happy, because I have never played so well at this tournament. I played my best match of the week in this final, and my sensations after my elbow injury are now very good. Feliciano is a good tennis player, but an even better person. I wish him all the best for the rest of the season.”
The win is also as timely as could be, with points in the Race to London becoming increasingly hard to come by. Ferrer remains in contention for his sixth consecutive qualification, his seventh over all, and with this kind of tennis and energy, few will relish seeing him on the other side of the net in the coming weeks.