David Ferrer does not so much fly under the radar as take the Tube. The 31-year-old Spaniard will climb above Roger Federer into a career-high position at No 3 in the world rankings in nine days’ time – he might even be No 2 if he reaches the final – but could still walk through Wimbledon village unnoticed by even the keenest autograph hunter.
All that would change, of course, if Ferrer carries on winning here. On past form that is as unlikely as, say, Sergiy Stakhovsky beating Roger Federer or Steve Darcis knocking out Rafael Nadal. In his 10 previous visits to the All England Club, Ferrer has reached the quarter-finals just once, when he lost to Andy Murray last year.
The French Open runner-up, nevertheless, is through to the third round for the sixth year in succession after a hard-fought 6-3, 3-6, 7-6, 7-5 victory yesterday over his fellow Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut. Ferrer, who now faces the world No 24, Alexandr Dolgopolov, was some way below his best, but believes he is improving with each match on grass.
Being a fellow countryman of the sport’s most charismatic player has contributed to Ferrer’s low profile. If he lacks Nadal’s flair, however, you can never underestimate Ferrer’s talent, indomitable spirit and extraordinary stamina.
The victory over Bautista Agut was typical of so many Ferrer performances. Although he lacks the big weapons so many of his rivals can call upon, nobody works harder for his points as he creates winning situations with his aggressive ball-striking from the back of the court, manoeuvring opponents out of their comfort zone. His game is best suited to clay, but nine of his 20 titles have been won on hard courts and he has even won a tournament on grass, in the Netherlands five years ago.
Bautista Agut is a good example of the great strength in depth of the men’s game. The 25-year-old world No 60 is playing in his first Wimbledon – he failed in three previous attempts to qualify – and has never gone beyond the second round of a Grand Slam tournament, but he has an impressive all-round game. Although most comfortable when grinding out points from the back of the court, he was not afraid to use subtle variations of pace and even tried serve-and-volley on occasions.
After two false starts because of the rain – play was even halted after the first point because the damp Court One surface was deemed to be dangerous – Ferrer broke immediately. The last two points of Bautista Agut’s first service game summed up Ferrer’s doggedness as the server was outrallied and forced into backhand errors. Bautista Agut broke back immediately but after another break Ferrer served out for the set after 43 minutes.
Bautista Agut took the second set with a single break of serve and twice came back from a break down to take the third set into a tie-break, which Ferrer won 7-4. The underdog hung on grimly in the fourth set but when he served at 5-5 and 30-40 he put a forehand in the net. A grateful Ferrer duly completed his victory in two hours and 58 minutes.
It was his 36th success on grass. The only Spaniards who have won more on the surface are Manuel Santana, Nadal, Feliciano Lopez and Andres Gimeno. Could Ferrer even become only the third Spaniard to win Wimbledon, following Santana and Nadal? That remains a long shot, but after this week’s remarkable events, who knows?