x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 29 July 2017

Ferrer finishes off Nadal at Mubadala World Tennis Championship

Spaniard defeats world No 1 in straight sets to make the final in Abu Dhabi.

David Ferrer defeated Rafael Nadal. Reuters
David Ferrer defeated Rafael Nadal. Reuters

Not often does Rafael Nadal get out-slugged on any tennis court anywhere in the world. So David Ferrer’s straight-sets win in the first semi-final of the Mubadala World Tennis Championships, built on an unceasing hounding from well behind the baselines, is to be applauded.

Exhibition stuff this tennis may be in name, but there was a kind of thudding sweatiness imbued within the 90-minute contest that gave it a far more competitive spirit. Much of it, of course, was spent beyond the baselines, Ferrer’s flatter groundstrokes were outlasting Nadal’s heavier spinning approaches.

Though Nadal has built an overwhelmingly dominant head-to-head record against Ferrer, winning 21 of 26 official encounters, four of Ferrer’s wins have come, like on Friday, on hard courts. There, he has split eight matches against Nadal, his flatter strokes well-suited to quicker courts. This year’s surface has been quicker than before.

But Ferrer is as self-effacing and modest as he is resilient. Asked why he fared better against Nadal on these surfaces, he flipped the equation.

“He has a better record against me,” he said. “I challenge him on this but on clay he is the best in history.”

There was an aggression in his game, a combination of the surface and because he has had more practice and played one more match here than Nadal. There were even approaches to the net; after Thursday’s win over Andy Murray, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga said the speed of the courts swayed him into attacking the net more.

Tsonga is far more freewheeling. On a rough count Nadal and Ferrer combined to come to the net 12 times and each time they did, it was with the deliberateness of an actuary: all risks, all possible options that could go wrong, having been assessed and deemed safe enough to proceed.

“To beat the best players in world like Rafael, like Andy or Novak, you have to play aggressive, to finish points at net,” he said. “If I don’t do that, it is impossible to beat them.”

Ferrer broke Nadal twice and with the precision of an assassin, they came in each set with Nadal serving 4-5 down. For a first game of a season, Nadal looked like Nadal usually does.

He moved well, handled most rallies pretty well and had nice, delicate control going to the net. He had opportunities too, taking on Ferrer’s serve and getting to 30-30 or deuce on a number of occasions.

“I think, for a first match to play against a guy who has practised for a month and who played a match yesterday, on a very fast court, I was happy with how I played,” Nadal said. “I had a few opportunities, break points, but he played well and he converted the chances better than me. I had a few mistakes but in my opinion I was better than I thought I would be right now.”

Ferrer will now face Djokovic in the final on Saturday after the world No 2 defeated Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 7-6, 6-3 in the second semi-final.

osamiuddin@thenational.ae