David Ferrer will have his work cut out for him against seven-time French Open champion Rafael Nadal in Sunday's final at Roland Garros. However, the fourth-seeded underdog has a game suitable to clay, and won't go down without a fight in facing the surface's all-time best player.
ESPN Stats & Info points out how putrid Ferrer's track record against his Spanish compatriot is:
David Ferrer is 1-16 in his career on clay against Rafael Nadal— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) June 8, 2013
The 31-year-old Ferrer is finally in his first Grand Slam final, and he also hasn't dropped a set in Paris this year. Ferrer dominated the only tiebreaker he was pushed to in the quarterfinals, while Nadal has let four sets slide by.
It's impossible to pick Ferrer to pull such a stunning upset with any sort of conviction, but he could present more problems for the No. 3 seed Nadal than meets the eye. Below are some bold predictions as to how this showdown will shape up.
Ferrer Wins First Set
In the first two rounds, Nadal dropped the opening set. There is at least some reason to think that it could happen again on Sunday—mainly because of how dominant Ferrer has been in his recent hot starts.
1st set a buzzkill for this Paris crowd. Ferrer's last 6 sets here: 6-1 6-1 6-2 6-1 6-1 6-1. As Corso says: Yo, sweetheart.— Chris Fowler (@cbfowler) June 7, 2013
Tsonga was the physically superior player in his match against Ferrer, yet he could not gain any traction because of how relentless and fit Ferrer is. That is typically what wears Nadal's opponents down, but Ferrer presents an interesting matchup with his similar style in that regard.
It should lead to a lot of extended early rallies, and it is easily feasible that Nadal could come out flat after his epic five-set win over No. 1 seed Novak Djokovic.
The outcome of the opening set should be close, but Ferrer will pull it out by a score of 7-5—which will be an upset in and of itself. Ferrer also beat Nadal in the first set of their last two match in Rome and Madrid, but went on to lose in three sets each time.
Nadal Will Dominate Service Games
The biggest advantage that Nadal has is power and topspin—especially against a foe in Ferrer who has to muster so much energy just to get a decently strong pace on the ball.
Nadal has been serving lights-out at Roland Garros in 2013. Even in the marathon match against Djokovic, he was able to get 64 percent of his first serves in play, and has even won 60 percent or better of his second-serve points in his past four matches (h/t RolandGarros.com).
With the way Nadal's ball kicks up on clay, it is extremely difficult for his opponents to handle—and it's particularly frustrating for a player like Ferrer.
The aforementioned lack of velocity Ferrer generates will lend to a lot of easy points for Nadal to seize, and will leave Ferrer constantly scrambling. He does it better than most, but Nadal does it better than anyone.
As long as he keeps his unforced errors to a relative minimum beyond the first set and maintains this form on serve, it shouldn't be too challenging for Nadal to impose his will in this facet of the match.
A Four-Set Triumph Gives Nadal French Open No. 8
How close will David Ferrer come to beating Rafael Nadal?
Beginning with another lost set will only drive Nadal into another gear. What makes him so captivating is how he has overcome injury trials and tribulations and yet still plays as if every point is his last, despite a fragile past in terms of health.
The more physically fresh Ferrer will not be able to maintain his early momentum, and will revert back to his typical ways against Nadal, which unfortunately results in him coming out on the losing end.
It will be hard for Ferrer to finish as the runner-up, but Nadal is, after all, 58-1 at this venue in his illustrious career and is the three-time reigning champion.
Shane Bacon of Yahoo! observes how historic of an achievement a win for Nadal would be:
If Rafael Nadal wins on Sunday he will be the first man to win the same major eight times. 7 guys have 7 titles at same Grand Slam.— Shane Bacon (@shanebacon) June 8, 2013
Nadal will wind up with more unforced errors, because he will be combating the exceptional net play that Ferrer often showcases by trying to hit more winners. However, his advantage on serve is too substantial for Ferrer to overcome.
Projected score: Nadal wins 5-7, 6-2, 6-4, 6-2