David Ferrer unlucky to play in era of game's all-time greats but deserves utmost respect

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It was a sad end to David Ferrer's Grand Slam career.

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.

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.

It was remarkable level of play that, in any other era, would have seen him nick a slam. However, Nadal, Federer, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka all stood in his way.

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.

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