Who is the best men’s tennis player in the Open era never to win a grand slam singles title?
Marcelo Rios will figure high in most pundits’ lists, as will David Nalbandian and Miloslav Mecir. Mark Philippoussis, Nikolay Davydenko, Alex Corretja and Tim Henman will find a mention as well, while fans of an earlier generation will vouch for the excellence of Todd Martin and Cedric Pioline, or the “Flying Dutchman” of the 1970s, Tom Okker.
How about David Ferrer? Ah, that Spaniard? The perennial underdog? A warrior, but always an afterthought in this glorious era of tennis, dominated by four of the greatest tennis players to have graced the game and, of course, Stan Wawrinka – a man, who can play tennis for the heavens on his day.
“But he’s a pusher,” his critics usually moan. “He wins by pushing”. True, Ferrer is not the most naturally gifted player in this list, or even among his peers outside the Big Five. He does not hit the ball as cleanly as, say, a Tomas Berdych, nor does he have he flair of a Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
He might not even have a portion of the talent that a Grigor Dimitrov, Bernard Tomic or an Ernests Gulbis possess, or the passion – and penchant for trouble – of a Nick Kyrgios. And, of course, at 5ft 9ins, he is the shortest man in the top 55. Victor Estrella Burgos, the No 56, is 5ft 8ins.
Yet, he has been a permanent fixture in the ATP top 10 since October 2010, reaching as high as No 3 in the rankings in 2013. He has featured at the year-ending ATP Tour Finals for six consecutive years.
Among current players, Ferrer, 33, has played more matches (967) than anyone else, save 17-time grand slam champion Roger Federer and he is No 4 on the list of active players with most wins (657), behind Federer (1,059), Rafael Nadal (767) and Novak Djokovic (686).
In the all-time list, he is No 15, only five wins behind Michael Chang (662), and ahead of such illustrious names and grand slam champions as Arthur Ashe (634), Thomas Muster (621), Lleyton Hewitt (615), Andy Roddick (612), Mats Wilander (571) and Jim Courier (506).
Ferrer is also one of just two active players – the other being his Spanish compatriot Nadal – to have won 300-plus matches on both clay and hard courts. He has now notched up more than 40 wins in a year for 12 consecutive seasons, and that is a testimony to his staggering fitness.
To use a cliche, Ferrer never gives up, relying on his indefatigable stamina to grind down his more gifted opponents.
That stamina, of course, has been built through sheer hard work over the years and Ferrer only seems to be getting better with age. An Aries, he won his first, and as yet only, Masters 1000 title (Paris, 2012) after his 30th birthday and was 31 when he made his first major final at Roland Garros in 2013.
Ferrer’s daily fitness schedule includes a six-mile run, an intense cycling session and a hitting session with older, and heavier, wooden racquets to strengthen his arms. His coach Javier Piles (now former coach), of course, had to take some drastic measures to drill the importance of fitness and hard work into his reluctant ward.