One Final Goodbye For Ferrer Turned Loss To Zverev Into A Loving Tribute

MADRID, May 9, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)

The record will reflect that World No. 4 and third seed Alexander Zverev defeated 144th-ranked wild card David Ferrer in the beloved Spaniard’s final professional tennis match, 6-4, 6-1. It came during the second round of the ATP Masters 1000 Mutua Madrid Open on a partly cloudy, chilly Wednesday evening in capacity-filled Court Manolo Santana at Caja Mágica.

Never was a 12,000-seat tennis stadium filled with so much love and admiration for one of its sporting heroes. The farewell proved amazing and it prompted the 37-year-old Ferrer after his career-ending defeat to Zverev, 15 years his junior, to say, “It’s the only match that I have lost and haven’t been very sad.”

Appropriately, the final score will not reflect that the tennis world gave an emotional, proper final salute to one of its most admired and respected players – a Spanish champion with the big heart – who never surrendered a point while making a remarkable impression on everyone: fellow players, fans, media. Everybody loved Ferrer.

Ferrer’s pro career stretches back to 2000, and after 19 years on tour, he removed his familiar red bandana-style headband from his soaked mop-top of hair one last time. Ferrer dropped it on the white T of the red clay court and walked away with no regrets. It was a sentimental moment that brought smiles and tears from the thousands of fans at Caja Mágica, and it was seen by millions of others on worldwide TV.

Afterward, Ferrer was feted on court by tremendous applause, video tributes from a variety of his contemporaries like Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, who said, “I enjoyed every match we played against each other.” There were also plaudits from Spanish Hall of Fame great Manolo Santana, and by tournament director and former Spanish Davis Cup teammate Feliciano Lopez. He was showered with gifts, including books – Ferrer enjoys reading and keeps every book he reads – and was presented with a colorful painting of his likeness. In return, Ferrer thanked everyone, including his parents Jaime and Pilar, his wife Marta and son Leo, and  longtime coach Javier Piles. Ferrer spoke in heartfelt tones in his native Spanish language for 11 minutes.

“It’s been a very emotional night. It’s been completely different to any other important moment in my life that I have experienced previously. I was not expecting it,” said Ferrer.

“I never expected a goodbye or farewell like today. I tried to play at a high level during the last year, but a day like today, people at work tomorrow, everyone stays here to support me and that is something that I will only have in my mind and in my heart. It’s something I will never forget.”

Soon, after the start of what became Ferrer’s final match, one might have wondered which guy was the 37 year-old and which one was 22? There was a separation of 140 places in the world rankings when Ferrer and Zverev faced each other in their eighth career meeting in Madrid. The seventh time, less than two months ago in Miami, was won surprisingly by Ferrer. Could he win again? Maybe, but as it turned out, this time there would be a different ending.

This time, reigning Madrid champion Zverev defended the 1,000 points he garnered for winning the 2018 title like his life depended upon it. Meanwhile, after a hopeful start in which Ferrer jumped out to a 4-1 advantage in the opening set and pumped up support, it eventually became a tearful-but-nostalgic last hurrah. The Valencia native played young at heart throughout the one hour and 10 minute match, much to the late-night crowd’s delight that showered him with chants of “Ferru, Ferru, Ferru.”

However, as time ran out, Zverev won 11 of the last 12 games to finish off the match, but not before the crowd gave Ferrer a standing ovation on match point. They were prompted by Zverev, who raised him arms and shouted to the crowd, “Come on, everybody.” Ferrer prolonged the moment when he stepped away from the service line to towel himself off one last time and soak in the applause.

The final outcome showed that Zverev outpointed Ferrer 56-38 and dropped just 16 points on his service despite hitting only four aces while committing five double faults. It was good enough to win on this night. The German advanced to Thursday’s round of 16 against 52nd-ranked qualifier Hubert Hurkacz of Poland.

After Wednesday evening’s match, Zverev was quoted by the ATP Tour website as saying of Ferrer, “He’s the most respectful guy for me on Tour, and one of the most loved people on the Tour as well. We’re going to miss him.”

In the end, Ferrer won 734 ATP tour-level matches and became only the 13th player in the Open Era (dating back to 1968) to win at least 700. He ascended to No. 3 in the ATP Rankings on July 8, 2013, and finished in the season-ending Top 10 seven times. He ended with 27 tour-level titles, including 15 on clay, and won one Masters 1000 crown (Paris, 2012). Additionally, Ferrer helped Spain win three Davis Cup titles (2008-09, 2011) and represented his country in the 2012 Summer Olympics.

“Whenever I lost a match in the past, I left very sad. Today I’m not sad,” said Ferrer in addressing the crowd. “Today is a day that I want to enjoy, and I’m very happy to be able to enjoy a day like today.

“I never won Madrid. I never won Roland Garros. I never won some tournaments I would’ve loved to win. I have my trophies at home, they’re just trophies, material. What I really take with me is the love you’ve shown me. Always in my heart. Thank you so much.”