Thursday, January 13, 2011

David Ferrer is so cool under pressure that he is at serious risk of suffering frostbite.

And the Spaniard required nerves of steel, too, as he was taken down to the wire by German Tobias Kamke at the Heineken Open today. Defeat came a knocking, but, instead, Ferrier stared it down and brushed it aside as only a player of his calibre could. He’s not the world number seven for no reason, you know.

For nearly two sets, he was more often than not on the back foot. It wasn’t that he necessarily played badly, just that everything Kamke tried tended to come off. He was simply a step or two behind early on as Kamke used superior racquet head speed to whip up the pace of his shots. And the winners were coming, because of it.

With those extra winning shots came the first break of the match in the sixth game to the unseeded German. He was up 4-2 and didn’t look back as he charged away to take the first set, 6-3. The match stats had been extremely even thus far, with the exception of the winners who had sided with Kamke nine to four.

Nothing changed over the first four games of the second set. The winners kept coming for Kamke, and Ferrer was constantly scurrying to dig himself out of trouble. There was a crispness of shot to Kamke’s game that Ferrer seemed unable to muster up. Despite games going to serve, Kamke was hitting with more power, managing supremely to run Ferrer ragged, giving his opposite little time to unleash any firepower that he may possess. It was shaking Ferrer’s game to the core, the epicentre of the strike coming from the menacing presence of a German machine at the height of his pre-eminence.

Somehow, despite the dominance of Kamke, Ferrer was able to hang tough, keep holding serve, and be ahead 4-3 as the set was so far without a service break.

Then it happened. The first chinks in the armour of the German began to appear, in the eight game. Sure, he held serve and levelled at four a piece, but, having expected a relatively easy service game, it came as a shock to Kamke to have taken considerably more effort than normal to come up with the desired result.

Sport at the top level, it is often said, is as much about mental fortitude as it is about physical prowess. As Kamke found out to his dismay. What became evident over the remainder of the set was the frustration of Kamke. He was now remonstrating with himself on a regular basis, not to mention throwing his racquet on occasions. Ferrer had finally cracked the German. It had taken nearly two sets, but, he was rewarded for not giving in. His time was coming at the wrong end of the match for Kamke.

Earlier in the match it had been Kamke dictating terms, now it was the turn of Ferrer. The percentage of winners hit was changing its allegiance to the Spaniard. What had been working for Kamke was now not so keen on cooperating for the German. Such as his prediralection for the drop volley. Played it so often, he did, that he may as well have taken out a patent on the shot. Problem was that, now, Ferrer was anticipating his every move and running down everything with his all.

It was taking its toll on Kamke, and by the time the tiebreaker happened along, Ferrer was in no mood to surrender the momentum that he had worked so hard to gain, as he wrapped up tiebreaker 7-1.

Fear is not one to hold anyone in high regard, but, like any bully, it only goes after the weak. It will greet its nearest and dearest with the wickedest of intentions. Evil personified, is fear. And fear careth not for the ambitions of the meek. Centre court would turn into his prison, if he let it.

Fear is what was etched all over Kamke’s face as the deciding set was to commence. He had been so near to an upset against one of the world’s best but could sense it slipping away. The voices in his head were saying it was no longer possible to stay with the top seed. Ferrer was riding the winning wave. So fear was telling him, anyway.

Remarkably, Kamke stood his ground. When all was looking lost, he refused to succumb to either fear or Ferrer. He had no intention of letting this stay a threesome in the long term, so he disencumbered himself of an unwanted acquaintance. This left the two combatants that had been going at each other for 1h49min to date, to duke it out. Another forty-one minutes of high quality tennis to enthral the masses would be greatly appreciated.

Which, they duly got. A seesaw battle was played out between two desperate foes eager for more match practice before the upcoming Australian Open. One minute Ferrer was on top producing sublime acts of tennis ecstasy. The next, Kamke would suddenly take control, unleashing a belting forehand winner, or at other times, his favoured drop volley.

After nearly two and a half hours of high ferocity tennis, something had to snap. And it did. Kamke, in the 9th game, let his guard down and allowed his concentration to wander from the job at hand. Ferrer, ever the professional, pounced, breaking Kamke’s serve with ease to get the decisive break and go up 5-4.

Kamke had given his all to the cause. An effort to be truly proud of, but, he had nothing left. Mentally he was exhausted. Which opened the way for Ferrer to cruise through the final game to secure his entry into the quarter-finals.

He was tested to the extreme, didn’t always have everything go his own way. But then that’s what champions do: take the bad with the good and find a way to overcome adversity.

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