Tennis: Nadal fatigue only chink of light on offer to Ferrer
Only a sadist would not feel sympathy for David Ferrer on his biggest day. By almost unanimous agreement, he will be the Spaniard who suffers most on Court Philippe Chatrier on today, someone for Rafael Nadal to hit against on the way to a record eighth French Open title.
And, while the defending champion made a point of reminding cynics yesterday: "Anyone who does not respect David as one of the greatest players in the world – and not for one year, but for a long time – that person doesn't know anything about tennis," the numbers do not fall kindly for Ferrer.
Every discussion here about the world No 5 starts with the caveat: "Fine player though he is ..." and similar euphemisms for a man appearing in his first Grand Slam final at the age of 31 against a compatriot to whom he has lost 19 times in 23 matches. More tellingly, 15 of those encounters were on clay and Nadal won all but the first of them, in Stuttgart in 2004. He has given Ferrer just seven sets in nine years, embarrassing his friend from Rome to Miami and back, and 'bagelling' him three times, most recently in Madrid last month.
Indeed, nowhere in the sea of doleful statistics is there much encouragement for the diligent and dangerous grafter from Valencia, the original quiet man in the corner. He has beaten Nadal in majors – on the hard courts of Flushing Meadows in 2007 and Melbourne two years ago, when Nadal was lame. But on the two occasions they have met here, Nadal won comfortably, conceding just five games. You wonder why Ferrer bothers turning up.
For Nadal, four years Ferrer's junior at 27, the experience today will be a familiar and comforting one, although he will bring no complacency to his 60th match here, his 17th appearance in a Slam final.
However, to dwell on a slightly uplifting stat: nobody has played in more Grand Slams, 42, before reaching a final than Ferrer – and that is the sort of testimony that defines this most durable and stubborn of players. If he were to win, sympathy would quickly turn to the most heartfelt celebration for a player universally respected on the tour.
Yet diffidence attends every Ferrer utterance. After his convincing win over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga on Friday, Ferrer was suitably thrilled yet, despite the fact he is yet to drop a set in this tournament and Nadal has spent nearly six hours longer on court getting to the final, he could must no more convincing battle cry than: "I want to enjoy this moment, to try my best in the final. I'm sure I am going to be a little bit nervous, but. . . I hope to play a good game. Defeating Rafa is very difficult on any surface; it's even worse on clay."
While that will raise no armadas, it accurately reflects Ferrer's character.
He knows his worth, as would anyone who has career earnings of $18.5m, but he remains as grounded and humble as he was when as a teenager he was locked in a two-metre square cupboard for hours, sustained only by bread and water, because his coach, Javier Piles, thought he was shirking on his training.
Piles will look down from the player's box with some pride today, whatever the result.
Andy Murray, recovering from back strain in London in preparation for Queen's next week, then Wimbledon, watched both semi-finals on Friday. He was impressed by Nadal's grit in overcoming Novak Djokovic in five sets, and doubtful about Ferrer's chances. He said of Ferrer, whom he knows well: "He played very well against [Rafa] in Madrid and in Rome. He had chances, that's for sure.
"They played in the semis last year and Rafa won very quickly in three sets. Ferrer's one of the fittest guys on the Tour, and he'll make Rafa work extremely hard."
Yet, perhaps there is a sliver of hope for Ferrer. Yesterday, the director of the Halle tournament, Ralf Weber, announced that Nadal was withdrawing from next week's Wimbledon warm-up, citing fatigue. "It is a pity and unfortunate Rafael cannot come," Weber said, "but I understand his decision. His health is the top priority."
Nadal said he was "a little bit tired, but nothing dramatic", after a morning cool-down from the Djokovic match, which lasted four hours 37 minutes. Later, though, he was guarded about the German event. "Today is not the day to talk about Halle."
If there is even a minor flaw in the champion's tennis, if the knee pain that kept him out of the game for seven months has returned to plague him, Ferrer is the man to exploit it.
Kyle Edmund, an 18-year-old from Yorkshire, won the boys' doubles title with Frederico Ferreira Silva of Portugal. The pair beat the Chileans Christian Garin and Nicolas Jarry 6-3, 6-3. It was their second junior Grand Slam title after winning the US Open last year. They were the better team throughout, and despite being pegged back from 4-0 to 4-3 in the second set they stopped the rot and Edmund served out the victory, clinching the title with a fine forehand.
The teenager will head to London to make his ATP Tour debut at Queen's after being given a wild card into the Aegon Championships.