David Ferrer will perhaps know more intimately than usual what his upcoming match against Novak Djokovic might be like.
Yes, the pair have contested no less than 14 matches between each other, but their head to head series, already in Djokovic's favour at 9-5, is decisively so at the Grand Slams—the defending champion leads the Spaniard 4-0 in that regard.
Ferrer may perhaps know more intimately the feelings of disappointment and helplessness because he has played a very similar role inflicting such feelings against his fellow countryman Nicolas Almagro, a man he has bested 13 straight times. His latest win over him in progressing to the semifinals was a five set escape act, coming down from two sets to love to complete a 4-6, 4-6, 7-5, 7-6, 6-2 scoreline.
Almagro had served for the match three times, but naturally failed on all occasions, if only for the fact that his mind started taking control of what had hitherto been almost flawless aggressive tennis. That beauty of a down the line backhand had Ferrer stunned for two and a half sets as a major upset and possibly career defining moment for Almagro seemed in the making.
The possibility of a Almagro-Djokovic clash in the semifinals, no doubt, must have passed through the thoughts of many. Some might have believed that that, at the time seemingly likely outcome, would present a match as exciting as that 12-10 epic which Djokovic had waged against Wawrinka. Almagro has a very similar game style, and would no doubt have played Djokovic with the same sort of freewheeling attitude.
Ferrer's eventual victory was a triumph in the end of an adage too many times seen already at this year's tournament—that the best do win because they are the best mentally. It helped Almagro little that he was 0-12 coming into the match. In the end, at the brink of victory, the slightest hesitation by Almagro was grasped by Ferrer to regain the initiative.
The style matchup issue that most hurt Almagro was his own style of aggressive play, which could not stand up to the impenetrable consistency of Ferrer. The now 13-0 record the latter owns is perhaps surprising, considering the respective equality in ability between the two, although it is highly telling of the mental aspect of tennis.
Ferrer's proposition against Djokovic in the semifinal will be a case of role reversal. It will be this time quite certainly Ferrer in the seat of underdog, having to play near-perfect tennis to defeat Djokovic. The problems for Ferrer, unlike for Almagro, are that he does not perhaps possess the electric ability to generate obscene winners, and secondly that he will have to come out considerably of his own defensive-minded skin to have the slightest hope of taking the advantage against Djokovic.
Apart from merely being the defending champion and world No. 1, it feels that Djokovic will reveal against Ferrer the all-encompassing superiority he has over the Spaniard—in all aspects of the game he is likely to be stronger and better. Ferrer has of course improved considerably his attitude to the sport, and his own aggressive capabilities, but those will need to be at another level altogether to make serious dents in Djokovic's defense. Outlasting the Serbian on the baseline will probably be unnecessarily attritious, and provide Djokovic with the sort of rhythm that will only see him enhance his own offensive abilities.
How Ferrer approaches the match will, in light of the traumatic psychological damage he inflicted in his last win, certainly be interesting to observe. One does get the inkling from the matchup perspective that, barring an unlikely dip in Djokovic's form, Ferrer may find it even more disenchanting than Almagro to attempt to overcome an opponent who has proved too solid too many times.