To many players on tour, crossing paths with David Ferrer in a draw is an absolute nightmare.
They know that the Spaniard is a beast, and the only way to tame him is to prepare for hours of grueling tennis because the 31-year-old just never gives up.
Ferrer’s match against Stanislas Wawrinka at the ATP World Tour Finals last month is the perfect testament to that. The world No3 had no chance of qualifying for the semi-finals in London after losing his first two matches, but he still pushed Wawrinka to the limit, playing like there was no tomorrow.
It was Ferrer’s last match of the 2013 season and he admirably, yet unsurprisingly, went down fighting.
But that same relentless Ferrer is the one who repeatedly says he can’t imagine himself snatching a Grand Slam title from the hands of those who have been dominating the majors scene – Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic et al.
The Valencia-resident reached his first ever Grand Slam final at Roland Garros this year and ended the season at a career-high No3.
But when asked whether he sees himself winning a major in 2014, Ferrer simply said: “No I don’t think so.
“Rafael, Novak, Andy and Roger, for the last five or six years they’re the ones. Maybe this year Roger didn’t play so good in the important moments but I think in 2014 it’s going to be the same story for the others and that Roger can win another Grand Slam and will be better than last year.
“After that, there are a lot of young players like (Milos) Raonic or (Grigor) Dimitrov or (Bernard) Tomic, maybe this year they can break through. They have a very good future, I don’t know if this year they’ll be in the top-10 but they have a good future.”
Ferrer crushed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the Roland Garros semi-finals in 2013, in front of the Frenchman’s home crowd and under a lot of pressure. But while the tireless Spaniard admits his final showing in Paris has given him extra motivation, he concedes that a repeat performance will be tough to achieve.
“It was my first Grand Slam final and it’s going to be very difficult to make another Grand Slam final again,” says Ferrer.
It’s quite the paradox that a player with such fight can have that little belief when it comes to his own abilities against his fellow top-five players but a quick look at the stats make one understand where Ferrer is coming from.
In 2013, the Spaniard won only three of his 16 matches against top-10 players and is 47-86 lifetime in that category. Another worrying stat from 2013 was that Ferrer triumphed in only two of the nine finals he contested during the season – picking up titles in Auckland and Buenos Aires early in the year.
But Ferrer says such numbers don’t tell the whole story and hold little importance to him when he looks back at his season.
“These statistics aren’t that important,” he said. “Yes I know I lost seven times in 2013 but I tried my best, so what can I do? I lost to great players.
“In 2012, I won seven finals and this year I lost seven finals and won only two but anyway it was a good year and nothing else is important. I went down fighting in every match and that’s what counts.
“I think every year it’s more difficult to be in the top-three, top-four or top-10. I will be 32 years old next year, and I think it’s important not to have any big injuries. My goal is to stay amongst the top players in the world, to be top-eight or top-10 in 2014 - that would be a good result for me.”
Listening to Ferrer discuss his career you realise that that level of content is not hindering his chances at the top but is in fact a real blessing.
His ability to treat each match with equal importance is why he can confidently declare that each time he walks off the court, he knows he has given his utmost.
Looking ahead to this weekend’s Mubadala World Tennis Championship in Abu Dhabi, where Ferrer is making his fourth appearance, the Spanish No2 will ironically be facing Wawrinka – the same man he lost to in his 2013 season-closer.
“I will try my best to beat Stan. He’s a very good player. The last match of the season I lost against him so this time I will take my revenge,” joked Ferrer.
“Every match is different and in London it was the last week of the year, it was on an indoor court and now it’s outdoors so for me it’s a different match.
“For me the Abu Dhabi tournament is not a show or a practice for the Australian Open. I’d like to play really well in Abu Dhabi and after that I’ll be really focused for Doha and then Auckland and then Melbourne.
"Of course Melbourne is a Grand Slam and is the most important but I like to take things step by step. For me it’s important to play well in Abu Dhabi.”
Although he’s reached his highest career ranking this year, Ferrer looks back to 2012 more fondly.
“I think 2012 was my best season. It’s true that in 2013 I became No3 in the world and made my first Grand Slam final but in 2012 I played my best tennis. I won seven tournaments, I won my first Masters 1000 in Paris-Bercy. I was more comfortable with my game and I hope that in 2014 I play similar to that season,” he explains.
One thing that will be different for Ferrer in 2014 is his coaching staff. The world No3 made a shock announcement on Sunday telling Sport360° that he has split with his long-time coach Javier Piles – a relationship that has lasted almost 15 years.
“I finished my relation with my coach Javier Piles three or four days ago,” revealed Ferrer. “I am sad because it was a very familial relationship and next year I will begin with Jose Altur along with my same team.
"Now I broke my relation with Javier, it was okay, we didn’t have any personal problems. We worked together for many years and we decided to end the coaching relationship.”
New coach or not, one thing we can count on is that come Thursday in Abu Dhabi, Ferrer will battle Wawrinka just the way he did last month in London. The UAE crowd are in for a treat.
2002 Won his first title in Bucharest
2005 Appeared in his first Grand Slam quarter-final at Roland Garros
2006 Entered the top-10 for the first time in January
2007 Reached his first Grand Slam semi-final at the US Open. Made the Masters Cup final, lost to Federer
2010 Made his first ATP Masters 1000 final in Rome
2012 Won a career-best seven titles including his first-ever ATP Masters 1000 title in Paris-Bercy
2013 Reached his first Grand Slam final in Roland Garros. Ended the year at a career-high No3