LONDON (Reuters) - Such was the mountain of statistics stacked up against David Ferrer when he walked on court at the 02 Arena to face his nemesis Roger Federer on Thursday he could have been forgiven had he simply walked to the net and shook his opponent’s hand.
After all the 30-year-old Spaniard had lost all his previous 13 matches against Federer, 10 of them without winning a set.
Throw in the fact that 17-times grand slam champion Federer has been unbeatable at the ATP World Tour Finals since 2009, has more victories in the season-ending event than any player in history and had won 101 of his last 102 matches against players aged 30 or over, and it really looked like mission impossible.
Natural claycourter Ferrer, who has enjoyed the best year of his career with seven titles, never shirks a battle though and snapped at Federer’s heels throughout a 6-4 7-6 defeat.
The 17,000 sell-out crowd inside the O2 certainly appreciated the world number five’s efforts as did Federer, who won their Group B clash despite a rocky first set in which Ferrer failed to take several early opportunities.
“You know that mentally he’s not going to go anywhere,” the 31-year-old Federer told reporters. “That’s why he has so much respect from his fellow competitors.
“I think this is really the time for him right now where all the hard work is starting to pay off for him.
“It already has in a big way. But I think now in particular he can shine and prove to... other players, how tough he really is.”
Despite his defeat, Ferrer can still qualify for the semi-finals if he beats Janko Tipsarevic in his final round-robin match on Saturday and should he reach the final he would move above injured compatriot Rafa Nadal in the ATP rankings.
Not that he was too concerned with that.
After back-to-back tournament victories in Valencia and Paris, where he claimed his first Masters Series title, he is competing at the Tour Finals for the fourth time. His year will extend to the Davis Cup final against the Czech Republic.
Quite a workload for a 30 something but Federer believes Ferrer will take it in his stride.
“It’s not over for him yet,” Federer said. “he might still win the title here, then it’s a really incredible achievement. “His schedule is tough but doable — at 30, but maybe not 31!”
Ferrer said he felt physically fine after his loss to Federer ended an 11-match winning streak and was already focusing his thoughts on the next challenge.
“I have to win to qualify (for the semis),” Ferrer said of his match against Tipsarevic.” The last time I played him I won 7-6 in the fifth set in the U.S. Open. So I think it’s going to be a tough match.”
Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Pritha Sarkar