PARIS As ever, David Ferrer is performing his role as understudy to the main man from Spain to perfection.
He goes on court, completes his task quickly and efficiently and leaves the stage free for Rafael Nadal to give the crowd what they really want.
So it was on Saturday at the French Open as the fifth seed eased past Italy's Andreas Seppi 6-2 7-6(2) 6-3 in the first match on a sparsely populated Court One, finishing shortly before defending champion Nadal took to a full Philippe Chatrier show court to play Leonardo Mayer.
Last year, the compatriots shared the spotlight on the final day of the tournament and Ferrer was, as expected, well beaten.
But this year there is a chance the two men may switch roles if they meet in the quarter-finals at Roland Garros.
In Monte Carlo in April, Ferrer beat Nadal in the last eight, one of three defeats the world number one has suffered on his favored clay surface this year.
Beating Nadal over five sets is a task of a completely different magnitude but Ferrer’s early performances in Paris show he is nearing the top of the game, even if he did relax to let Seppi back into the second set when leading 3-2, 40-15.
The 32-year-old recovered his focus to win the tiebreak and take the match over the two-hour mark, having conceded just 15 games in his first two outings.
"I speculated too much, and I thought he would make mistakes," Ferrer said. "I would have liked to be more steady with my forehand and more consistent but, still, I'm happy."
Ferrer has now reached the last 16 in his last 16 grand slam tournaments.
"I think this is an asset in a tennis career, to be this consistent," said Ferrer.
Ferrer is far too experienced to give any hostages to fortune before his expected last-eight meeting with Nadal. "Rafael is the favorite in Roland Garros. For me, if maybe he can lose a few matches in Monte Carlo or in Barcelona, but he won in Madrid, he did the final in Rome. In clay court, for me he's the best player.
"The most important thing for me is to be among the best players, to be very competitive, and the rest is results. And I’ve showed that I have improved."
(Reporting by Robert Woodward; editing by Josh Reich)