In a clash between the two leaders of a generation in Spain, defending champion Rafael Nadal takes on former semifinalist David Ferrer, in what is the man from Alicante’s final Grand Slam. Nadal will know that victory in New York, which would be his fourth, would tighten his grip on the #1 ranking and return him to within striking distance of Roger Federer in the race to win the most Major titles. But will Ferrer be able to deliver a parting shot to the man who so often denied him?
Nadal and Ferrer have met 30 times in a head-to-head the younger man has dominated, winning 24 of those matches. But it was Ferrer who won the first, 14 years ago in Stuttgart, only for Nadal to then win five straight. Ferrer won two in a row, including at the US Open in 2007, but has since lost 21 matches and won just three. That run for Nadal has included three wins at Roland Garros, including in the final, and in eight other finals, two of which were at Masters 1000 level.
Last time out
Nadal dominated the clay court season for the second year in a row, and lost just one match. He made a run to the semifinals at Wimbledon, the first time he’d been past the fourth round at the Championships since 2011. He continued that good form on his return to action in Toronto. There he battled through the draw, with particularly memorable contests coming against Stan Wawrinka and Marin Cilic, to defeat Stefanos Tsitsipas in the final. He then withdrew from Cincinnati to rest.
Ferrer has played a lot of tennis lately, but has not enjoyed much success. He fell to his compatriot Jaume Munar in the first round in Paris, despite winning the first two sets, before also losing in the first round at Wimbledon, in the second in Bastad where he was defending champion. He then took two more first round losses in Hamburg and Toronto. Ferrer then lost again in the first round in Cincinnati, where he was defending semifinal points, to bring his long stay in the top 100 to an end.
How do they match up?
There will be no surprises awaiting either man when they step onto court after 30 previous meetings. Both in many ways exemplify the Spanish approach to tennis, which demands tireless running and mental fortitude. But Nadal adds to those qualities a fearsome offensive arsenal, the centrepiece of which is his monstrous forehand. Nadal dominates with that shot and has also been striking his backhand with increased power and confidence of late.
Ferrer at his best was the equal of Nadal in terms of application and he has gritted out countless wins throughout his career by sheer force of will and impressive defence. But he could never match Nadal’s attack which is why he trails in their head-to-head so badly. Nadal could usually withstand the worst of what Ferrer could throw at him, the reverse was very rarely true. Now 36, Ferrer’s legs look to be growing heavier with each passing week and his once-indomitable will looks brittle indeed.
It was hoped that Ferrer might have a good run in New York to bring his long and storied Grand Slam career. Against Nadal that will not happen. The world #1 was almost always far too strong for Ferrer when he was at his best. Now one fears he may be on the receiving end of a mauling, for Nadal has always been ruthless, even against those he respects. And he surely does respect Ferrer, as do all in the game. This will be his end, but it is at least fitting that he shall come to it on the grandest of stages.