Spain to Davis Cup semis in dramatic finale

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The best thing about Davis Cup is that its rich history is so full of career-making moments.

It can be a relatively obscure bench player who does something spectacular, as Germany’s Tim Puetz did Saturday in the doubles tie against Spain.

Or it can be a player who’s had a fine career , but never ever quite had that moment to shine.

For David Ferrer, in his Valencia home, charged with winning a fifth and decisive rubber for the first time in his career, this was such a moment.

Ferrer, who turned 36 last week, was playing in his 24th career Davis Cup tie. And as sterling as his 27-5 record was, he had never carried the entire tennis nation on his shoulders.

Magic moment, at home, when it counts

But on Sunday, before a faithful home-city crowd, after the return of Rafael Nadal to the competition put the first two points up on the board but the French Open-champion pairing of Feliciano Lopez and Marc Lopez were shocked the day before, Ferrer seized the day.

Overmatched in his first match Friday against world No. 4 Alexander Zverev, Ferrer finally put away a valiant Philipp Kohlschreiber, 7-6 (1), 3-6, 7-6 (4), 4-6, 7-5 Sunday in four hours and 51 minutes.

The victory puts Spain in the September World Group semifinals against France.

The moment put Ferrer in the pantheon of his country’s sporting heroes.

“Very emotional, this competition. I have my best emotions in my career. So I’m really happy,” Ferrer said during an on-court interview after the match. “It’s really difficult to describe the feeling in this moment. Difference was in the final set. I played better than him. I was very focused, and the first set (which Ferrer won) was the key. In the first set maybe he was better than me, and after that it was very very close.

“For me its a dream, playing at home, here in Valencia, have the support of al the people, my family, my team. We’re in the semifinals, so it’s one of the best days in my career, for sure,” he added.

The day began with Ferrer’s teammate Rafael Nadal taking world No. 4 Alexander Zverev to school in a clinical 6-1, 6-4, 6-4 win. It evened the tie at 2-2 in the wake of Saturday’s doubles defeat, and gave Ferrer his opportunity to shine.

Tough conditions in the bullring

And it was a day that had everything. Rain. Cool temperatures. Blustery winds that blew the red clay into the eyeballs of players and fans alike. But as the big crowd approached its seventh hour in the Valencia bullring, not many had left.

Kohlschreiber was up 3-0 in the fourth set tiebreak. But he lost it. Ferrer was up a break in the fifth set. But Kohschreiber won three straight games to go ahead again. 

Germany had two break points at 3-4 to have an opportunity to serve for the tie. But two Kohlschreiber backhands – one topspin, one careful slice – flew over Ferrer’s baseline as the wind carried them a little too far.

At 5-5, 30-all, Kohlschreiber got an awkward bounce on the clay-deprived court, missed a forehand, and gave Ferrer an opportunity to break. 

And then, on an epic point that sums up Ferrer’s career and heart, he ran down at least three near-winners, one after another. After more than 4 1/2 hours on court, he made Kohlschreiber hit just one more ball.

It was a backhand volley, near the net. And Kohschreiber couldn’t make it.

After that, with Nadal still frantically cheering from the sidelines, Ferrer was able to close it out. He fell to the court in exhausted ecstasy.

Ultimate sportsmanship

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Before even celebrating with his teammates, Ferrer was over on the German side consoling opponent Philipp Kohlschreiber and his teammates.

And then, to no one’s surprise, after shaking the chair umpire’s hand and hugging his captain briefly, he immediately headed over to his vanquished opponent, as Kohlschreiber sat disconsolate on the German bench.

A consoling moment with him, hugs and handshakes for the German squad. And only then did he head over to get mobbed by his teammates.

“I feel so emotional because … the match the both played was unbelievable. Also very special for David, that we love, one of the greatest person on the circuit. I think he deserves a match like this one, Davis Cup, in front of this crowd,” captain Sergi Bruguera said in an on-court interview.

“Philipp, he played an unbelievable match, one of the best matches I ever saw him play. … All the match was an incredible level of tennis, incredible intensity, for five hours.”

Ferrer didn’t even want to think about France, about September, about anything but the moment.

For me it’s one of the best days of my life, and I want to enjoy it,” he said. “Maybe one glass of red wine.”

Federer prevails over Ferrer in fast Montreal conditions

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The general consensus about the centre court at the Rogers Cup in Montreal is that it’s slow. Very slow. Slower than either Cincinnati next week or the US Open.

It might partially explain that while Roger Federer has won Cincinnati seven times, he has won the Rogers Cup only twice – and never in Montreal. He hasn’t even played in Montreal since 2011.

But on Thursday, conditions were fast.

Perhaps that’s one reason why the newly 36-year-old struggled to find his timing against the dogged David Ferrer Thursday. he finally came through with a 4-6, 6-4, 6-2 victory that puts him into the quarterfinals against another Spaniard, Roberto Bautista Agut.

He might not have noticed the faster conditions during his first match against Peter Polansky, because the opposition wasn’t as fierce and he wasn’t tested.

“He was tough as nails today, I’m happy I got back into the match, I needed a bit of help from David because it wasn’t my best performance,” Federer said on court after the match. “It’s fast conditions today, and it’s tough to control the ball, I must say. And I’m not quite used to the balls yet.

“The hard-court season has been a bit of a struggle for me, in practice as well. This is going to give me some rhythm, and I’m very happy about it.”

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Ferrer is now 0-17 against Federer, something the Swiss maestro has a hard time wrapping his head around because of his immense respect for the Spaniard.

Perfect conditions, an imperfect match

Federer said the speed of the court was a surprise not because he expected something else, because he had not been in Montreal for awhile. It was more a matter of just adjusting to the hard courts in general.

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Federer took a pass on the razor, showing off a little scruff.

But he definitely was out of sorts. You won’t often see him fire a ball into the crowd in annoyance. Perhaps that’s why the chair umpire didn’t dock him a code violation; he was too surprised to open his mouth. Federer followed the loss of that point with a double-fault to hand Ferrer back the break the Swiss star had just earned, early in the second set.

Federer found the solutions. Being a career 16-0 against Ferrer, who is just eight months younger, had to help.

“It was strange. Conditions are actually playing fast. That should help my serve. There was no wind. So it was actually perfect conditions to actually play a good and clean match. That’s not the way it is,” Federer said later in his press conference. “From the baseline, I didn’t have enough rhythm. The court is fast here. Of course, because of the surface, that it’s fast, you can’t just decide to put the ball in because physically David is very strong. You can’t do that. So you have to go into the battle. You have to accept you’re going to make mistakes. But you have to keep moving forward.

“I tried with my intensity and focus to change the match, and this is what I was able to do. I was able also to change the angles, and that helped me win the match,” he added.

No wife, no kids, no problem

Federer is flying solo in Montreal; for the first time in a long time, his wife and four children are not on hand. Perhaps that’s why he was able to sneak out to the Coldplay concert earlier this week.

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No kids, no wife – bachelor week for Federer.

It might also be why he has allowed himself to look a little scruffy. No need to worry about the kids complaining about daddy’s whiskers hurting when he cuddles them.

The temporary bachelor thought it would be nice and quiet. It hasn’t turned out that way.

“Of course, I miss ’em, number one. That’s what I feel the most. Secondly, I know I’ll see them very soon, so I’m fine there. It’s not, like, the first week of my life where I’m by myself. I’m used to it, as well. But, you know, I still somehow am very busy. Trying to sleep as much as I can, preparing,” he said.

“Now that I’m playing every day, you know, there’s not that much time. Came here this morning at 11:00 and I’m leaving late. Then I got treatment, press, everything. So it’s full days, you know. I’ll try to relax tonight. But, yeah, I thought it was going to be more quiet this week, but it wasn’t, so…”

Federer also has a perfect record against Bautista-Agut (6-0), whom he considers to pose a challenge similar to the one Ferrer offers. Their last tussle was tight, though; Federer defeated Bautista-Agut in two tiebreakers in the third round of the Miami event in late March.

Spanish Armada sailing into sunset

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ROLAND GARROS – There was a time, not that long ago, that one of the 18 meetings between Feliciano Lopez and David Ferrer match would have been in the latter stages of a tournament.

At this year’s French Open, it came in the second round. And it was a heartbreaker for Ferrer, who was a finalist here just four years ago.

Lopez’s 7-5, 3-6, 7-5, 4-6, 6-4 victory took three hours and 52 minutes and eemed to bring him little joy, even if it was the first time he’d beaten Ferrer on clay since 2008.

No doubt that was partly out of exhaustion. But these moments are bittersweet, now. The huge gang of amigos that peppered the top of the rankings for the last decade are getting old. Injuries are catching up to many of them.

It’s just about the end for the Spanish Armada.

Here’s what Ferrer vs. Lopez looked like.

Ferrer, whose career high ranking was No. 3, was seeded No. 30 at this French Open. Barely seeded. And he likely won’t be seeded at Wimbledon. 

Remember the years when, if Rafael Nadal couldn’t play a Davis Cup tie, Spain would have an embarrassment of top-30 riches that included Ferrer, Lopez, Verdasco, Robredo and many more to fill in? 

There still are eight Spaniards in the top-75 in the ATP Tour rankings this week. Take away Pablo Carreño-Busta (who reached his first Grand Slam quarter-final Sunday after a five-set win over Milos Raonic), who is an outlier at age 25. The average age of the other seven is 31 1/2.

Ferrer, Lopez and Tommy Robredo are 35. Fernando Verdasco is 33.

Here’s a list of the Spanish players with their career-best rankings, and their current rankings.

armada

It’s a declining asset. And let’s face it, we won’t ever see the likes of this kind of volume from any one country again. 

France in the same boat

France is in a similar fix at the moment. The French currently have nine players in the top 75. But save for 23-year-old Lucas Pouille, who is on the rise, their stock also is aging.

The country had an embarrassment of riches for so long. Four players from the same generation reached the top 10 : Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Gaël Monfils, Richard Gasquet and Gilles Simon. That, too, isn’t likely to happen again.

The game has become so global. There is so much money available to the very best; players from countries that didn’t even exist a generation ago are developing players and hitting the top of the ATP charts.

For Spain, though, there isn’t much in the pipeline. The country has two top-20 players beyond Nadal in Roberto Bautista-Agut and Albert Ramos-Viñolas (Carreño-Busta will join them next week). But both are 29, late bloomers. They likely have maximized.

Neither was much of a match for his all-world opponent Sunday in Paris as Bautista-Agut was quickly eliminated by Nadal. Ramos-Viñolas, after a good start, lost in straight sets to Novak Djokovic.

Not much on the horizon

Spain has just two entries in the boys’ singles this week: No. 11 seed Nicola Kuhn and No. 14 Alejandro Davidovich Fokina.

If those names don’t sound particularly Spanish, that’s because it’s a different world in Spanish tennis these days. Kuhn, born in Austria but a resident of Spain since he was a kid, represented Germany in international competition until just a year ago. He finally made the switch despite the German tennis federation offering him plenty of incentive$ to stay.

Fokina is Malaga-born, to a Swedish father and a Russian mother. He turns 18 on Monday, 

He’s quite the expressive fellow.

In the Spanish Armada generation, a lot of players exited the junior track pretty early and honed their craft on the Spanish Futures circuit. But only one other Spanish teenager beyond Kuhn and Fokina is even ranked in the top 900 in the ATP Tour rankings right now.

So if the next Spanish Armada – even a tiny flotilla – is on the horizon, no one can see it yet.

But it was pretty great while it lasted.

No wonder Ferrer had a rare moment of disgust as he left his Babolat stick in the dust after his loss to Lopez.

Sort of summed it up.