David Ferrer currently sits at #5 in the world and, while he has reached the top 4 before, looks to be in the best form of his career right now. Ferrer has never really been a threat at the Slams until now. And even now, he isn’t quite at the level of the top 4. But still, no one else on tour has beaten the “Big 4″ as much as he has and no one really consistently plays closer matches against them.
Ferrer’s style is pretty unique. He is almost a counterpuncher but his defensive shots are almost attacking anyway. He is very similar to Nadal in a lot of ways, though Rafa’s rally shots clearly have a lot more bite and power. Earlier in his career, Ferrer used to be very good on the indoor hardcourt part of the season. For some reason, he has gone away from that a little and now is probably the second-best clay courter on tour, after Nadal of course.
But now, he looks strong on all surfaces. The surprising losses to bad players that used to plague him have disappeared this year. He has reached the quarterfinals or better in all 4 Slams this year and has won 5 titles so far (his previous career high was 3 in 2007). Last year, he reached the final of the World Tour Finals, where he fell to Roger Federer. But ever since then, for almost this entire year, he has been the most consistent player on tour.
Ferrer, or Ferru as he is affectionately called, is one of the great fighters on tour. He never gives up in points or in matches. He loves to spend hours on court running down everything possible and just making the opponent his extra shots or waiting for any tine opportunity to take advantage of the point with an attacking forehand. This style, while it is effective against almost everybody, should in theory allow lower players to be in the matches far longer than they should be. But that’s what makes Ferrer such a great player for a counterpuncher. It just doesn’t happen. He doesn’t have losses against lower players who hang in there and grind out games by the skin of their teeth. Ferrer’s style might lend itself towards close matches against anyone, but Ferrer does a very good job of putting away lower opponents and not letting them stick around.
But what, precisely, has made this year Ferrer’s best ever? The absence of Nadal has to at least be mentioned. Ferrer has taken up the mantle of the top Spaniard playing right now quite well. He took full advantage of receiving a top 4 seed at the US Open. Even on grass, which is by far his worst surface, Ferrer impressed this year, beating both Andy Roddick and Juan Martin Del Potro at Wimbledon. He even took Andy Murray to 3 tiebreaks in a very tight match in the quarterfinals there. I think a good part of that was the feeling that he needed to pick up some slack after Nadal’s second-round loss to Lukas Rosol.
The biggest immediate cause of his great year is his lack of getting upset. He just doesn’t lose to players that he isn’t supposed to. You can almost pencil him in to the quarters of most big tournaments nowadays. He might not beat the other top players as often as he’d like (though he does do it more than anyone else), but he doesn’t really lose to anyone else either. Ferrer has only 12 losses this year. Only 4 of those were to players outside the top 4. That’s an amazing stat and really the reason that he is a clear #5 this year, almost 1000 points ahead of Del Potro at #6 with the indoor hardcourt season still to come.
One more important point that must be made is that Ferrer has greatly improved his mental toughness this year. He has always had a bit of trouble serving out sets and matches, but much less so this year. Also, it almost used to be a running joke how bad Ferrer was in tiebreaks. He would lose tiebreaks in terrible fashion to even bad players, let alone to the top guys. This year, though, he has been much more successful in tiebreaks and has been far more competitive even in those he has lost. I think this, more than anything else, indicates that Ferrer is in a much better place mentally and that he is ready to challenge the top players even more consistently than in the past.