Wayne Ferreira is one of the names that crop up as regularly on the Wimbledon order of play as Court 13 and the caveat "occasionally it is necessary to switch a match from one court to another". His name appeared for the last time yesterday, but at least the 32-year-old South African leaves Wimbledon a record-breaker.
By walking on court against Ivan Ljubicic last Monday, Ferreira broke Stefan Edberg's record of 54 consecutive Grand Slam appearances. Having decided to hang up his racket after September's US Open, Ferreira will take the new mark to 56, but said yesterday that Flushing Meadows will be merely an encore - "this was the last really big one I wanted to play," he said.
For a man who reached world No 6 in 1995, he has always believed he belongs in the top 20. After his second round win over Karol Kucera, Ferreira even allowed himself the fantasy of believing he could win Wimbledon in his final year, despite admitting he was "in the worst shape of my career".
Such optimism was firmly knocked on the head yesterday by Florian Mayer, a 21-year-old German from Bayreuth, a town normally consumed at this time of year more with its up-coming Wagner festival than with a local tennis player. Mayer was the master singer on Court 7, taking Ferreira on his own ride of the Valkyries with a 4-6, 6-4, 6-1, 6-4 win to emphasise the twilight of Ferreira's career.
"I still don't think he's great," said Ferreira of Mayer, who had not rated Mayer's game before the match. "He doesn't really have anything that stands out. I think the reason I lost was more my doing than his."
That is fair from Ferreira's perspective - his form died once he had dropped serve from 40-15 up in the 10th game of the second set to allow Mayer to level. But it underplays the consistency of the German, who cuts an inauspicious figure with his boyish look and air of being permanently on the point of tears, but whose calm determination is taking him up the rankings.
Throughout his 15-year professional career the rugged Ferreira has often looked on the point of beating someone up, but that's a misleading impression of a very cooperative man, devoted father, and increasingly statesmanlike figure in tennis. In recent years he became known as the figurehead for a semi-breakaway players' union, the International Men's Tennis Association.
"I just wanted to get it up and running," he said, "to make the players understand they need to do something about the game. It's still their responsibility." With such an outlook, it's not hard to believe Ferreira when he says he'll be back at Wimbledon in some capacity in the future.
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