Thursday, August 29, 2013

Why is David Ferrer So Freaking Boring?


Since hitting the tennis beat, I have made it my goal to learn as much as possible about the world's top players. Before starting at Indian Wells I, like my most fans, knew a good deal about the group characterized as the "Big Four", Nadal, Federer, Djokovic and Murray. Each of these players have transcended tennis to get mainstream sports popularity and each of them has a compelling "hook" that makes them interesting and intriguing personalities. Even the second-tier guys like Del Potro, Tsonga and Isner can create compelling television due to playing style, backstory or even massive height. But for a player talented enough to be ranked #4 in the world, I can find almost nothing interesting about David Ferrer.

Ferrer is clearly the most talented player in tennis that could walk down the street of any American city and be unrecognized by even one sports fan. In fact, Ferrer can walk through the stadium area here at the US Open (as I have seen him do) and get little more than a passing glance from the most hardcore tennis fans in the United States. His matches are never considered important enough for Arthur Ashe Stadium. However his #4 ranking means the USTA feels like they can't put him on an outer court. So that means that Louis Armstrong Stadium becomes essentially "David Ferrer Stadium" for these two weeks...stick him there, as a sign of respect but an acknowledgement of the lack of any tennis sex appeal. But why is that? Why is Ferrer the living epitome of a "Perfect Storm of Blah" that makes him unmarketable and unremarkable. To me, there are three main reasons:

(1) His Name

If ever someone outside of Michael Bolton in "Office Space" had the right to curse his given name, it would be Ferrer. Now there is nothing intrinsically wrong with the name...David is a good wholesome first name that is age-appropriate and creates very little negativity. And in Ferrer, the Spanish charm is brought out as the surname is easy to pronounce by even the most inept sports broadcaster. But Ferrer had the misfortune of coming along in the age of Roger Federer. The best player of all time possesses the same name, but with perfectly placed "d" that gives his name an almost noble quality that far outpaces his now higher ranked rival. When Ferrer is spoken of at tennis tournaments, his name is immediately a let down, with the listener initially mistaking (hoping?) that you are talking about King Roger. "Ferrer plays on this court in ten minutes" gets an initial excited gasp, followed by the dismay of the realization of David's presence. The #4 ranked player in the game should not so often disappoint.

(2) His Country

Similarly, Ferrer has the misfortune of being a player with great Spanish flair (and by the way, is it a requirement that when talking about Spanish players, writers use the word "flair"...I never hear people talking about Danish "flair" or Bulgarian "flair", but I have heard at least five media members this tournament mention the phrase "Spanish flair"...but I digress) in an era that has produced the most popular Spanish player in the history of the sport. Rafael Nadal has hardcore tennis fans in awe with his powerful game and his appearance elicits more screams from female fans than a "One Direction" Today Show performance. Everything Ferrer has, Nadal has as well...only slightly more. Ferrer is a clay court specialist with a world class game on the surface...but Nadal is the best of all time on the red stuff. Ferrer's game has translated to other courts and he is becoming a weapon in the hard court season as well...but Nadal is having the best hard court summer of his life. Ferrer is stylish and handsome...but Nadal is ranked as one of the most beautiful people in the world. Simply put, Ferrer is not Nadal and for that, he is unfortunately punished.

(3) His Game

Ferrer plays tennis in the most effective, consistent and monotonous way possible...as a human backboard. To play tennis with Ferrer is simply to see yourself in the mirror, whatever you do, he will do it back to you. It is why Ferrer is so shockingly consistent. You have to be a great player to beat him as he will force you to hit winners and rarely gives up an unforced error. But it also makes watching him an exercise in willpower as you beg to see him do something, anything to make the match interesting. Ferrer doesn't do anything great, but he does everything well and thus only players on the top of their game can beat him. Since such players rarely reach that height, he is ranked #4, with few elite wins but even fewer embarrassing losses. He is the tennis "Time to Make the Donuts" guy...always on time, always dependable and always uninteresting.

Does any of the above mean that we should criticize David Ferrer? Certainly not. Ferrer is an elite player precisely because of the characteristics that make him boring. If tennis is the Andy Griffith Show, David Ferrer is Aunt Bee, rarely the star of the show and almost never getting the laughs...but needed for the camaraderie and consistency of the storyline. One will likely never see a major national American ad campaign about Ferrer, but they also won't see an "Outside the Lines: Special Report" either. Instead he will just do his thing, hiding in the shadows and waiting for a mistake upon which to take advantage. Revel in your "Hootie and the Blowfish"-ness David. You are boring, but "Only Wanna Be With You" and backboard tennis can still be very successful.