David Ferrer doesn't have it easy. After playing in over 750 matches, he finally reaches his first Grand Slam final, the French Open final. And who does he find there? The one and only Rafael Nadal.
And maybe if this was any other tournament, we could shrug off that and give him a fighting chance. After all, Ferrer is one of the best players in the world.
But no, this is the French Open, a place that soon might be renamed for Nadal. Nadal is the best ever on the clay court, and his stats at Roland Garros are bordering on incomprehensible.
Nadal has lost just one match at Roland Garros. He has won three straight tournaments and seven of the last eight.
It's a remarkable run of dominance, one that may never be duplicated. And here Ferrer comes, his moment of glory just hours away, and he runs into the brick wall of Nadal. Nadal has won 19 of their 23 matchups.
No, it doesn't seem right. Ferrer, a truly fine player who is lost in the golden era of this last decade, lost in the shuffle behind Federer, Nadal, Murray, Djokovic, finally gets his chance at stardom, and the only thing standing in his way just happens to be the best player to ever step on a clay court.
And while every prognosticator is smartly picking Nadal to win, and to win handily, it would be foolish to think that Ferrer doesn't have a chance.
While Nadal was battling, with everything he had, to barely edge out Novak Djokovic in five sets, Ferrer had a nice easy match against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, quickly disposing of the French player in straight sets, never having to break a sweat.
That could end up being a big advantage for Ferrer. Nadal is undoubtedly tired. Ferrer knows this, and could send his countryman running up and down the baseline. The more tired Nadal gets, the better the chances are that Ferrer can pull off the upset.
Ferrer also has to be superb on his returns. Yes, he's one of the best returners in the game, but there is no margin for error against Nadal. The only way to beat Nadal is to make fewer mistakes. Ferrer has to play a perfect game.
When Nadal lost his only match at Roland Garros—in 2009 against Robin Soderling—it was because he was put on the defensive. Soderling jumped out to an early lead, and Nadal, maybe unnerved, made a lot more errors that he usually does. It wasn't that Soderling did anything special. He put Nadal into a corner, and Nadal did not respond like he usually does.
Maybe that performance was luck for Soderling, and Nadal has learned from it. But it is the best chance Ferrer has to pull off a shocker. He needs to take advantage of Nadal's weariness from the five-set thriller against Djokovic and use it to his advantage. The more Nadal is chasing the ball around, the likelihood that he makes a mistake, a damaging mistake, goes up.
It's a longshot. Nadal is the favorite, and he has earned that right. But Ferrer, the fifth-ranked player in the world, is not completely out of luck. He has a chance—a minor one, to be sure. But if Ferrer uses his rested legs to an advantage, then there's a chance.
And if he does, it might be the biggest shock of all.
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