One step forward, one step back as Ferrer beats Murray on and off court

Andy Murray is out of the Shanghai Masters after losing in three sets to David Ferrer

What a difference a day has made to the fortunes of David Ferrer and Andy Murray.

Only last week, world No5 Ferrer suffered his second consecutive loss in the opening match of a tournament to tumble three places to No10 in the Race for the World Tour Finals.

Only last week, a semi-final run in Beijing took world No11 Murray past Ferrer into ninth place in that Race.

And until today, Ferrer had only managed to beat Murray once on hard courts: that was in their Round Robin match at the World Tour Finals in 2011, and Murray withdrew straight afterwards with an injury that he had carried in the run-up to the tournament.

But in this overloaded quarter of the Shanghai draw, with both playing for vital points to boost their chances for reaching London, Ferrer turned his Asian Swing around, turned his 5-7 head-to-head against Murray around, and turned a one-set deficit around to storm into the quarter-finals.

Even putting aside the back-story of these two players, this was not the anticipated outcome. Murray has reached the final in Shanghai on his last three visits and won the title twice—incidentally beating Ferrer in 2011. And he was starting to show the kind of form that has brought that success. He won in Shenzhen just before his Beijing run, and looked fluid, confident and strong in beating two tricky opponents this week, Teymuraz Gabashvili and Jerzy Janowicz, in straight sets.

He came out all-guns-blazing in this match, too, dropping only four points on serve, firing five aces among his 76 percent first-serve strike rate, breaking twice, and closing out the first set, 6-2, with twice as many points as Ferrer.

But the Spaniard is a remarkable player. Now age 32, it was not until Ferrer turned 30 that he overtook his illustrious compatriot Rafael Nadal in the rankings—albeit briefly—for the first time, reaching No3. Nor that he won his first Masters title, in Paris, nor reached his first Grand Slam final, Roland Garros.

After a slump in form and rankings during 2009 and 2010, he had even considered walking away from tennis, but instead applied himself anew and put together his two best years on the tour through 2011 and 2012.

And that sums up the character and heart of the powerhouse that is Ferrer. No matter the obstacle, he will simply put his head down and dig a bit deeper.

For a man of 5ft 9in, he has also developed a penetrating serve. For a natural baseliner, he has added a surprising aptitude at the net. And his tactical smartness has become almost the equal of his winning spirit.

He hit back at Murray with deep, accurate hitting on both wings, firing to alternate corners, now opening the court with a down-the-line missile, next cleaning up with a cross-court forehand. And this against one of the fastest and most complete defenders in tennis.

But Ferrer also went after Murray’s serve. The Briton’s first-serve rate dropped and Ferrer made hay on his second serve. Murray would make just three points out of 18 second serves in the concluding two sets. Meanwhile Ferrer would drop only five points out of 31 on his own first serve.

The Spaniard appeared, at times, to have Murray on a piece of string, broke twice in the second set to take it, 6-1, and twice more in the third without so much as facing a break point on his own serve, to score an impressive victory, 6-2.

Murray was both generous and accurate in his appraisal of the respected Ferrer: “He barely missed a ball for about a set and a half. I couldn’t find a way around him. He played just great tennis, especially the last set and a half.

“[At] the start of the second set I still had a couple of opportunities. But after that, I’ve got to give it to him, he played fantastically well and deserved to win.”

The result has an immediate impact on the Race to London. Having started the match with every hope of closing to within five points of eighth-placed Milos Raonic, Murray has now slipped behind Ferrer into 10th.

He is next scheduled to play the Paris Masters, but if he is to keep his London hopes alive, there is now every chance he will add one of the 500 events in Basel or Valencia. His problem there is: Roger Federer and Nadal are lined up for the former, Ferrer for the latter.

Ferrer, though, also has to look ahead for points. For in Shanghai, he most likely now faces the world No1 and defending champion, Novak Djokovic. Not only has the Serb looked impregnable in China—and he is already on a 26-match-winning streak—but has won his last six matches against the Spaniard, dropping just one set in the process.

So the Race has a long way to run for both Ferrer and Murray, who are currently squeezed out the top eight by fellow contenders Stan Wawrinka, Kei Nishikori, Marin Cilic, Tomas Berdych and Raonic.

Berdych made effortless progress over the huge-serving Ivo Karlovic, 6-3, 6-4, and will overtake the already-beaten Cilic into sixth place if he defeats Gilles Simon in the quarter-finals.

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