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By Chris Oddo | Tuesday May 16, 2017

Grinders can be boring; there’s something to be said about their antithesis. About the fluidity and aggressiveness of the attacker, who can end points on a whim and sail through talented foes by serving lights out, painting the lines and exposing the limitations of less talented players.

More: Sharapova Denied Roland Garros Wild Card

Then again grinders can be INSPIRATIONAL, and that’s why Spain’s David Ferrer has held a place in the heart of so many tennis fans worldwide ever since he first struck a ball in anger on the professional tour. But Ferrer, who became the 13th player to reach the ATP’s 700-win club with a 4-6, 6-3, 6-1 victory over Feliciano Lopez on Tuesday in Rome, is so much more than a grinder.

Grinder can be a pejorative term amongst tennis fans, meant to insinuate that said grinder lacks the courage or the athleticism to be anything else, but in Ferrer’s case to label him simply a grinder would be akin to labelling Jo-Wilfried Tsonga simply a bomb server.

There’s so much more to the game of the 5’9”, 160-lb Spaniard.

And even if there wasn’t, he’d be the best grinder that most of us have ever laid eyes on. Watch him getting set to return serve, bouncing up and down perpetually with a hyena-hot-on-the-trail-of-an-injured-elk look in his eye, and you can see this is no ordinary tennis player.

In his prime he was indefatigable (he still is in fact, and was today in his victory over Lopez in Rome). Lacking a sure-thing knockout punch, he crafted a game predicated on body blows. If he couldn’t knock you out with one swift punch he was going to kill you slowly. He’d bruise your abdomen, crack your ribs, take out a tooth, bloody an eye—and we’re talking about the first two sets alone. Then, when his opponent was wobbly, bleeding and badly in need of an injury timeout, the real pain would set in.

Ferrer was a pain machine, and by his dogged pursuit of his own best self—a supremely fit and focused athlete and maniacally patient and consistent ball-striker—he earned his admittance to the demolition.

It wasn’t ugly to watch him make another man wilt on a tennis court, nor is it today—it’s well-earned and in many ways inspirational.

Watching Ferrer at the tail-end of a beatdown you’d see one player barely able to get out of his chair. Then, Ferrer, a towel in his mouth to chew on, bouncing up and down. His long locks flirting with the contours of his face. His sinew ripped, the veins in his arms and the muscles in his forearm telling a tale of a man possessed, a competitor so determined that those watching him could feel the hairs on the back of their necks rising…

This may sound like hyperbole, but Ferrer was and is that insatiable of a force on tour. Rafael Nadal gets all the credit—and deservedly so—for being one of the greatest competitors that the sport has ever seen, but don’t think that he didn’t benefit from having Ferrer as a role model. Just watch Ferrer battle his way through a tight match and you can’t help but learn from it. You can’t help but want to have that swagger, that attitude—that battle lust.

Throughout his career Ferrer has been the consummate competitor, and despite the aforementioned grinder association, he’s a player that over the years has elevated the tennis player as pugilist ethos and taken it to legendary levels.

With a heart far bigger than his serve, the Spaniard has earned 700 victories on the ATP Tour as of today. That’s quite an accomplishment, and it’s something that only 12 other players have managed to do in the history of the sport.

Ferrer is a Roland Garros finalist and for damn sure he would have won that title if his compatriot Nadal hadn’t been so otherworldly on the terre battue. But Ferrer is more than wins and losses and milestones. He’s got a style all his own. He’s a fiery, tempestuous, bandanna-clad, bronzed bad ass. And he’s totally underrated as a shotmaker and an aesthetically pleasing player. Ferrer’s backhand, which he chokes up on more than most players, is a pleasing shot to watch. His forehand is built for the red clay, nice and round, but he can punch it hard and he hits one of the most accurate and perfect inside-out forehands in the game.

Unlike many clay-court gurus, Ferrer has a great net game, a relatively big serve (given his stature) and a flair for the dramatic.

Throw in his sinister grunts, which are part human, part pit bull and part underwater alien, and you have the finishing touches of one of the game’s greatest players—ever! Never mind that he was better on clay than other surfaces or that he didn’t win a major or that he was overshadowed by Rafael Nadal throughout his whole career.

David Ferrer is the real deal. He’s what we should all aspire to be when we turn off the TV and step on a tennis court. He’s a player that wasn’t blessed with all the power or all the stature of today’s tennis luminaries, but one who has never yielded in his quest for personal greatness all the same. He’s a player that turned over every stone to find what hidden gems might be there to help him develop a competitive edge.

Then, when it was time to do battle, he stepped on the court and let his passion take over. That’s probably what I’ll remember Ferrer for most of all when he hangs up his racquets. You could almost feel his heartbeat when you watched him play.

I’ll remember that he was soft-spoken off court, but man was he a boisterous combatant on it.

I’ll remember him for being flawed against the biggest stars of tennis—he never could find a way to hang with Federer, Nadal and Djokovic, but in the end when David Ferrer is done playing I’ll remember him as one of the best competitors that I ever saw.

He honored the game with his blood, sweat and tears (and still is!), and stood tall against the giants of the game, throwing punches and if they didn’t land, throwing some more.


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