Challenger Vault: David Ferrer
Next year, David Ferrer will close the book on his illustrious career, as the former World No. 3 prepares to hang up his racquet after 19 seasons on the ATP World Tour.
But last week, the 36-year-old had one final chapter to write in 2018 as he kicked off his farewell tour. Over the years, Ferrer has found a second home in Mexico and his visit to the ATP Challenger Tour event in Monterrey was no exception. A four-time champion at the Abierto Mexicano Telcel in Acapulco, the Spanish veteran was embraced by the home crowd throughout the week. Fans packed the Stadium Court to witness his dogged tenacity on full display.
Ferrer did not disappoint, dropping just one set en route to the Abierto GNP Seguros title. Making his first Challenger appearance in 14 years, he improved to 6-0 in finals on the circuit with aplomb. As the Monterrey faithful jockeyed for position to get selfies and autographs with the Spanish legend, the moment transcended sports.
It is a career that most would dream of. A peak ATP Ranking of No. 3 was predicated on hard work and dedication to his craft. He exhibited a persistent, indefatigable attitude regardless of the conditions or situation on the court. Ferrer would go on to lift 27 trophies on the ATP World Tour, including the 2012 Rolex Paris Masters, and reach the final at both the 2007 Nitto ATP Finals and 2013 Roland Garros.
But Ferrer did not stroll onto the ATP World Tour and immediately lift trophies. He got his start far from the bright lights and mammoth stadiums. It was apropos that Ferrer would return to his roots in Monterrey, giving one final farewell to the ATP Challenger Tour.
"When I was younger, the tour really helped me a lot, because in order to be a professional you have to play these Challenger tournaments," Ferrer told ATPWorldTour.com. "I had the luck of spending a little time at this level and then I quickly played tournaments on the ATP World Tour. The Challengers are a phase that everyone has to go through, to rise to the top. I was only 17 or 18 years old playing tournaments on the ATP World Tour, so I made it fast."
Ferrer raised five trophies between 2001 and 2002, claiming his maiden crown in Sopot, Poland, before dominating on the clay of Italy with titles in Napoli, Sassuolo and Manerbio. A native of Javea, Spain, he would also reign in nearby Valencia, giving the home fans the opportunity to watch a star in the making. Two months later, he would break into the Top 100 of the ATP Rankings at the ripe age of 20.
"I still remember the first Challenger I won in Sopot (Poland) and also when I won in Napoli (Italy), because I beat Marc Rosset. I saw him play on television many times and to play against him in a match was different. He was the first big player I beat. Great memories.
"The Challenger circuit is very difficult and it is not easy to win there. Of course no one wants to stay playing at the level, but it is a stage that everyone has to pass. It is a big jump to play on the ATP World Tour, but it is clear that these players are at a high level."
In the early 2000s, the proud tennis-rich Spanish contingent was beginning to say 'adios' to legends Juan Carlos Ferrero and Carlos Moya, as a new era commenced with Ferrer and Rafael Nadal. Now, a similar transition is taking shape, as the Next Generation is already taking aim behind the likes of Jaume Munar, Pedro Martinez, Carlos Taberner, Nicola Kuhn and Alejandro Davidovich Fokina. Munar, Martinez and Kuhn have already captured their maiden titles.
"The Spanish players in Challengers are really good. Jaume Munar already is in the Top 100 and has passed this level. Pedro Martinez is on this path and Carlos Taberner also. They are very young players but I am sure they will be in the Top 100 soon. It is true that we also have teenagers like Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, Nicola Kuhn and Carlos Gimeno Valero who are the future.
"I have trained a lot with Martinez and also with Gimeno, because he is from Valencia. I was also with Davidovich in Marbella and he is a player that I also like a lot."
Ferrer will open his 2019 campaign at the ASB Classic in Auckland, where he is a four-time champion. He plans to call it a career in either Barcelona or Madrid.