Giant-hearted David Ferrer triumphs over Ivo Karlovic’s Goliath

David Ferrer beats Ivo Karlovic in three sets to reach the final of the Qatar Open in Doha

In a match of big hearts, knuckle-clenching tension and iron wills, a match of David and Goliath proportions between two men who continue to give their all well into their 30s, ‘David’ Ferrer beat ‘Goliath’ Ivo Karlovic in three tie-breakers to advance to the Qatar Open final.

Ferrer, at 32, makes up for his physical stature in blood, sweat and toil: He is a man who does not know the meaning of ‘give up’, and continues to evolve his skills—more net work, more variety on serve—and to break personal boundaries. He began last year at a career-high No3, ended the season fifth on the tour for match-wins, level with Rafael Nadal for clay-court wins, and seventh on the tour for finals.

He arrived in Doha as No4 seed, had a severe test in his opener against Thiemo de Bakker—fighting back from a set down—and then sailed past Fernando Verdasco and Dustin Brown.

But his quarter-final opponent proved to be his biggest test. The 35-year-old Karlovic was ranked as high as 14 more than six years ago, but this smart, quietly spoken giant of a man, standing at 6ft 11in, has not had things easy since then. Injuries through 2010, 2011 and 2012 were followed by viral meningitis in 2013.

But he bounced back to win his first title in five years in Bogota and last year reached four finals to climb from a low of 167 to his current 27 in just 18 months.

At the start of the tournament, the oldest man in the Doha draw, Karlovic celebrated a special milestone: He became the third player since 1991 to hit more than 9,000 aces in his career.

Yes, the Karlovic serve is the Croat veteran’s chief weapon, but tactically he supplements it with serve-and-volley plays, helped not a little by some backhand slice. This daunting combination, which effortlessly pierced through yesterday’s wind and sand, proved too frustrating for the top seed: Karlovic beat Novak Djokovic in a 6-4 final set.

Ferrer, a full 14 inches shorter than Karlovic, depends on speed, nimble movement and variety from all around the court. And he wielded his effort and skill to perfection through the full two hours and 32 minutes of this contest.

Often the statistics neither tell the story of a match nor do justice to the players. Here, they were eloquent, in a match with no breaks of serve decided by the smallest of errors in each tie-break set.

The first went to Karlovic, the second to Ferrer, by which time the former had reached 20 aces, the latter was averaging well over 80 percent on first serve. There was just one double fault between them—and there would be no more in the match.

Neither gave way in the third, a triumph of concentration and effort: Karlovic a combination of slow preparation and explosive serve and volleying; Ferrer a bustling ball of energy, head down, busy. They even allowed themselves the odd smile of disbelief: now an ace from Karlovic, next a looping pass from Ferrer.

They began the deciding tie-break separated by just three points in the 228 played.

Ferrer was the first to concede a point, then Karlovic lost two in a row—and that is all it would take. The Croat saved a first match point with a second-serve ace, his 30th of the match, his 97th of the tournament, and that took him to second on the all-time list behind fellow Croat Goran Ivanisevic. But the match went to Ferrer with, appropriately, a cross-court passing winner.

For while Karlovic had notched up an additional 37 winners to his ace count, Ferrer had made 47 winners and just 18 errors. What’s more, while Karlovic’s 42 net points from 78 was perhaps not unexpected, Ferrer showed his own all-court evolution with 25 points from 31 net plays.

It took the indomitable Ferrer to his 47th final, and he was clearly delighted: “It’s nice to be here in one final in Doha. I enjoy a lot playing this kind of match.”

It is perhaps an unexpected comment when facing Karlovic, but it does indeed seem to bring out the best in Ferrer’s game: “Ivo, he serve unbelievable. I didn’t have any chance, but I try to be focused in the tie-breaks. It all depends on little differences.”

Asked how he would celebrate, he added with a beam: “I don’t want to think too much, just to enjoy this moment!”

He will now face another big man to contest the title, the 6ft 5in, 90kg, No3 seed Tomas Berdych. The impressive Czech continued his smooth, powerful progress, still unbroken in the tournament and yet to drop a set, with a 6-2, 6-3 win over Andreas Seppi.

His last meeting with Ferrer was a year ago, in the Australian Open quarter-finals, and he won in four sets. It would take a brave man to bet against the big Czech coming out the winner here, too, but it won’t be easy.

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