Juan Carlos Ferrero stands proudly at the head of the men's game today, challenging Andy Roddick and Roger Federer to dislodge him in the concluding three tournaments of the year.
The 23-year-old Spaniard overcame some shaky moments at the Madrid Masters - he had to save two match points against the South African Wayne Ferreira in the second round - but he went on to make the decisive shots when it mattered and defeated the unseeded Nicolas Massu, of Chile, in yesterday's final, 6-3, 6-4, 6-3. It was Ferrero's fourth Masters Series title and his first indoors, another indication of how the leading Spanish players have come to terms with the faster surfaces in recent times.
Ferrero, the French Open champion, was whipping through the opening set until Massu managed to save two break points at 3-0. The Chilean persevered with his efforts to match his opponent's groundstrokes and was fuming after he failed to get back into the set when Ferrero served at 5-3.
The Spaniard saved two break points, erasing the first, at 30-40, with a forehand drive, and was given the benefit of the doubt on the second, on Massu's advantage point, when a rally ended with the Chilean's forehand down the line being called out.
Ferrero won the next two points to take the set, but the unhappy Massu continued to argue with the Spanish umpire, Mohamed Lahyani, about that earlier point, indicating where he was convinced the ball had landed, while perhaps overlooking the fact that marks are only checked on clay courts.
Massu, who eliminated Roddick, the United States Open champion, in the third round, may have been trying to stir himself into action. But by the time he returned to his chair, it was time for play to resume. Ferrero made the most of his opponent's unsettled state of mind, rattling him with deep groundstrokes to break his service in the opening game of the second set.
The Chilean saved two break points at 3-1 and another at 4-2, and he was not impressed when the umpire overruled a call on Ferrero's second serve at 4-3, 40-30. The retaken serve was on target, and Ferrero followed up with a forehand drive to the corner. Ferrero was taken from 40-0 to deuce when serving for the set at 5-4, eventually converting his fourth set point.
Ferrero was the sharper at the start of the third set, breaking in the first and fifth games to lead 4-1. Massu continued to work hard and was rewarded with his first break of the match, for 4-2. The Chilean was less successful with two more break points with Ferrero serving at 4-3.
That was Massu's last chance. Ferrero broke for 5-3 and served out the match after two and a half hours to take the £300,000 first prize.
* Justine Henin-Hardenne overtook her Belgian compatriot, Kim Clijsters, as the women's world No 1 when she beat Jelena Dokic 6-0, 6-4 in the final of the Swisscom Challenge in Zurich yesterday.Reuse content