Novak Djokovic may be adjusting his training, but he still will have too much talent for the steady David Ferrer at the 2013 Mubadala World Tennis Championship.
The tournament premiered in December 2009, a star-studded tune-up for the upcoming season of tennis. Since its inception, the lowest-ranked player to join the six-player field in Abu Dhabi was Marco Baghdatis, who was ranked 20th back in 2010. The World Tennis Championship has featured at least two of the top three players in the world each year.
This year's field was the strongest of the six. Rafael Nadal, Djokovic, Ferrer and Andy Murray all played, the first time in tourney history that it featured the top four players in the ATP men's singles rankings. Eighth-ranked Stanislas Wawrinka and 10th-ranked Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, the latter playing in his third WTC, filled out the field.
After an opening-round bye, Djokovic took down Tsonga in straight sets 7-6 (7), 6-3 to advance to the final, while Ferrer took down Wawrinka 7-5, 6-1 before upsetting Nadal 6-4, 6-4.
This sets up a rematch of the 2011 finals between Djokovic and Ferrer; the Djoker won the WTC in both 2011 and 2012 and is looking to repeat. Meanwhile, the 31-year-old Ferrer is currently playing the best tennis of his career and can make a huge statement with consecutive victories over Nadal and Djokovic.
Expect Ferrer to play comfortably and hold his own against Djokovic. Per N.D. Prashant of gulfnews.com, Ferrer credits his victory over fellow Spaniard Nadal to his preparedness and confidence in his game.
Meanwhile, Ferrer was delighted with the way he went about his business, saying: “I was feeling good out there and was playing my best tennis. I played consistently and was good in many moments. Rafael must have not had that much practice and I have been training for a month. That would have made the difference. I feel I have more chance against Nadal on a hard court than on clay court.”
That's a good sign for Ferrer, who appears to be fully at ease after a recent coaching change.
David Ferrer announces split from long-time coach Javier Piles. #atp— Beyond The Baseline (@SI_BTBaseline) December 23, 2013
Even so, he won't enjoy the same surface advantage he did against Nadal when he faces Djokovic. In 16 ATP matches, Ferrer has beaten the Serbian star three out of four times on clay, dropping 10 of 12 played on hard surfaces.
Much like his countryman, Ferrer is built for clay. His feet are his greatest asset, with the speed and nimbleness to allow him to cover all corners of the court. He is able to track down opposing shots, using his footwork to balance himself, then relying on angles and accuracy rather than booming power to win points.
Of course, those are strengths on any surface; Nadal noted to Prashant after his loss that Ferrer, who had already played a match on the WTC court, coped better with the surface's quickness. He'll be able to save some shots that would be winners against a more powerful player, maybe even get to some balls Djokovic couldn't.
That won't be enough to beat Djokovic, who covers plenty of ground himself and boasts a far superior groundstroke game to Ferrer's.
The best bet for Ferrer to counter a big hitter on a hard surface would be to control his brute strength and force him off the baseline with drop shots.
A generic power player would struggle if Ferrer executed that strategy, but Djokovic is anything but. He will certainly lose some points planted deep on the court, unable to reach a handful of well-placed balls; but he has the ability to scamper up and either match Ferrer's angle game or generate power on the run-up and hit it by him.
In terms of ability and style, Djokovic has every advantage on a hard court. The only potential undoing would have to do with outside influences.
Let's do this #djokovic— Boris Becker (@TheBorisBecker) December 27, 2013
Like his finals foe, Djokovic is using Mudabala as an opportunity to get tournament experience with his new trainer, Boris Becker. That said, Prashant reports that Becker's affect on Djokovic seemed "galvanizing" in his match against Tsonga.
“It was great to have him [Boris] here. We are midway through our preparations and have been on court for just the third time. It was a new experience for both of us and it went well. We spoke before the match what the future will bring for us and how we prepare,” added Djokovic.
If that's any indication, the Djoker is at the height of his powers with a favorable matchup he has won many times before, including once on the court on which they'll compete this time.
Credit Ferrer for besting Nadal and asserting his worth as one of the world's top players, but Djokovic has too much going for him here.