Roger Federer summed up the career of David Ferrer extremely accurately in just five words.
“Ultimate respect for road warrior,” the Swiss tweeted, reacting to Ferrer’s final Grand Slam match of his career at the US Open. It was a spot-on assessment, in which the tennis and sporting community would wholeheartedly agree.
Injury meant that the 36-year-old had to withdraw deep into the second set of his first round match against good friend and fellow Spaniard Rafael Nadal on Monday night.
It was a sad way for Ferrer, who will officially retire with either a swansong event in Madrid or Barcelona in his homeland next year, to end a significant but undeservedly understated career.
As Federer says, the game has lost a true warrior.
Ultimate respect for road warrior @DavidFerrer87
— Roger Federer (@rogerfederer) August 28, 2018
For a man known as tennis’ marathon man due to his heavy season workloads and ability to play out five-set epic encounters regularly, it didn’t seem right for a calf injury to break his once unbreakable body and bring his career to a premature halt.
It was the first time in 207 major matches he had had to pull out during a match, bringing a tear to the eyes of many watching under the lights on Arthur Ashe Stadium.
“This is my last Grand Slam. I’m so sorry because I can’t finish the match. I will miss you a lot,” Ferrer, a man of very few words, said.
The cliche would be to say the former World No3 (July 2013) made the best of his limited talent, small physical frame for a tennis player (5ft 9in) and lack of big weapons, aside from his consistency, work-rate and fitness, but that would be doing him a disservice.
He was better than that.
Turning professional in 2000, his peak years – between 2007 and 2015 – saw him finish in the top 10 for seven seasons out of nine, reach five Grand Slam semi-finals and one French Open showpiece, in 2013, in which he lost to compatriot Nadal.
While his head-to-heads were all substantial losses with the aforementioned, aside from a 7-7 square-up with Wawrinka, Ferrer was always in the bracket of quality a few notches below those greats but better than most of the rest.
In other bygone eras, certainly between Pete Sampras’ decline and retirement in the early 2000s and before Federer’s emergence, Ferrer may have won a major or two, like the likes of Thomas Johansson, Marat Safin Lleyton Hewitt and Juan Carlos Ferrero did. Unluckily for him, his timing was a little out.
That, nevertheless, should not detract from a player who you would have playing for you if your entire life’s possessions were resting on the line. He never showed anything less than 110 per cent endeavour on the court.
Let’s also not forget, Ferrer did win 726 matches on the ATP World Tour – the most-ever by a player who did not go on and win a Grand Slam title.
Ferrer also helped Spain win three Davis Cup titles, prompting Nadal to describe him as “one of the greatest” in the country’s history.
Whether it was grinding from the back of the court on his beloved clay or grinding opponents down by retrieving near-impossible shots with his frenetic on-court speed and agility, Ferrer’s all-commitment style of play in a game which has become increasingly about power and strong hitting from the baseline, will probably not be seen too often again.
Ferrer’s never-say-die spirit was in fact the opposite to his quiet and shy persona off-court. Now with a young family, tennis is in Ferrer’s blood so expect him to move into the coaching sphere at some point next year when he fully hangs up his racquet.
Having also earned over $31million during an 18-year career (not including endorsements) – the seventh-most prize money in history – he has set himself up for the next phase in life and good luck to him.
The world number one was scheduled first on the new Louis Armstrong Stadium against Kaia Kanepi and lasted just an hour and 15 minutes before succumbing to a 6-2 6-4 defeat.
At the end other end of the day, Williams opened the night session on Arthur Ashe and proved too strong for Poland’s Magda Linette, winning 6-4 6-0.
It was her first match at Flushing Meadows since a semi-final loss to Karolina Pliskova in 2016, having given birth to daughter Olympia during the tournament 12 months ago.
Williams has had a difficult build-up to the tournament, suffering her most one-sided loss ever when she won just a single game against Johanna Konta in San Jose – she subsequently revealed she had learned just before the match that the man who killed her half-sister had been released from prison.
Williams then lost to Petra Kvitova in the second round in Cincinnati but pulled away here after a tight opening to the match and needed just an hour and nine minutes to clinch victory.
The 36-year-old, who is looking to equal Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24 slam singles titles, said: “It’s such a good feeling to be back out here. It’s an experience you can only live in New York and it’s one of the best feelings in the world.
“The first set was tight. Once I got settled, I started doing what I’m trying to do in practice, so it helped a lot. I think I’m getting there. I’ve been feeling really good in practice.”
Williams could face a third-round meeting with sister Venus, who won a tough battle against fellow former US Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova 6-3 5-7 6-3, but Halep is no longer in her section following her shock loss.
— US Open Tennis (@usopen) August 28, 2018
The 36-year-old, one of the outstanding players of this era, is renowned as a warrior and had never pulled the plug midway through a contest in 207 previous grand slam matches.
He was a break up on Nadal at 4-3 in the second set having lost the opener 6-3 in steamy conditions on Arthur Ashe Stadium but was clearly struggling with a left calf injury and decided he could no longer continue.
Ferrer plans to retire at an event in Spain next season, and he told the crowd: “It was pain. I tried to play but I think it (his calf muscle) is broken. I have really good memories here. This is my last grand slam. I’m so sorry because I can’t finish the match. I will miss you a lot.”
After a fine start to the match, Nadal’s forehand went awry in the second set, but his primary feeling at the end of the clash was empathy for his compatriot.
The world number one said: “I’m very, very sorry for him. He’s one of my closest friends on tour. We shared amazing moments together playing French Open finals, a couple of Davis Cup finals. It’s sad to see him finish like this but he deserves everything because he’s a fantastic player.”
Ferrer reached his only slam final at Roland Garros in 2013 and climbed as high as world number three the same year.
Nadal moves through to a second-round clash with Canada’s Vasek Pospisil while Stan Wawrinka is also on an eight-match winning streak at Flushing Meadows after defeating Grigor Dimitrov for the second successive slam.
The Swiss won his third slam title here two years ago but was unable to defend it after undergoing knee surgery from which he has struggled to recover.
Having returned to the tour at the Australian Open, it is only in the last month or two that Wawrinka has started to look anything like his old self, a sequence that began with a shock victory over Dimitrov at Wimbledon.
Their respective form since them made this far less of an upset, although Dimitrov was the eighth seed while Wawrinka is still ranked just outside the top 100.
After his 6-3 6-2 7-5 victory, the 33-year-old said: “There is a lot of question marks of how my body will be right, how mentally I will be right. A few weeks ago I was still struggling a lot.
“I’m improving tournament after tournament, match after match. And I can see that the last tournaments, it went really high, from struggling in the match to competing at a really high level. So I’m really happy with that.”
Good luck and godspeed, David Ferrer. We are losing something that will never be replaced. pic.twitter.com/9YeTMEhIyE
— TroubleFault (@troublefault) August 28, 2018
One of the most eagerly-anticipated matches of the day was between Canadian teenagers Denis Shapovalov and Felix Auger-Aliassime.
Shapovalov, 19, burst on to the scene last summer but for 18-year-old Auger-Aliassime this was his first taste of the big time after coming through qualifying.
Sadly for the younger man, he was forced to retire in tears in the third set after experiencing heart palpitations in the hot and humid conditions.
The pair are best friends, and Shapovalov consoled his compatriot before saying: “It’s actually really tough to see him going out like this. I told him at the net we’re going to be back here, we’re going to play so many of these.”
Man of the moment Stefanos Tsitsipas won his first main-draw match at Flushing Meadows, beating veteran qualifier Tommy Robredo 6-3 7-6 (7/1) 6-4, while there was an emphatic 6-0 6-3 6-4 victory over Donald Young for third seed Juan Martin del Potro.
Last year’s runner-up Kevin Anderson was in deep trouble at two sets to one down to American Ryan Harrison and struggling with cramp but recovered to win 7-6 (7/4) 5-7 4-6 6-3 6-4.