First match on Center Court – Julien Benneteau (FRA) v David Ferrer (ESP) – starts the main draw off solidly. Ferrer, as always, lurks in every draw as the one player no one looks forward to facing. Beside the phrase “dogged determination” there’s a picture of his face, with his unblinking stare. His style of play is, to be honest, not a “style” at all; just a complete dedication to hard work. He is fascinating to watch because point after point, you almost never have a sense of him keeping track of whether or not he’s won string of points or games. Ferrer simply prepares for the next toss or return. I can’t recall ever seeing an expression of frustration with his own play, line calls, the conditions, or anything else. And yet, for that level of concentration and focus, he never comes across as single-minded, obsessive, or even robotic. He has the ability to inspire, but only those willing to work every minute of every day. In a world drawn to showy, God-given talent – you know, innate physical genius – Ferrer appeals to older lovers of the game, in it for the purity.
Today, surprisingly, Ferrer feel in three sets to Benneteau, but it never looked or felt like he was even behind. Watching Benneteau, you would have imagined a straight sets win for Ferrer. A various points during the match, Benneteau appeared flustered, more in his head over missed opportunities or bad calls. Ferrer went about his business with his head down and nose to the grindstone.And while Benneteau advances to the next round, Ferrer will move on as well. His sights, no doubt, on the first point to be played at the US Open.
Next up, Pablo Cuevas (URU) v Sam Querrey (USA). I’ve tracked Querrey’s performance here in the past, searching for meaningful signs of the kind of upgrade in play necessary to propel him positively into the US Open. He’s got the height, which grants him the booming serve seen in other US players like Andy Roddick, but he hasn’t quite developed that next gear, the one the current top-five/top-ten players shift into during the second week of the majors. Querrey, to his credit, rarely stumbles when faced with lower seeds. That big serve allows him to coast along, waiting for his opponent to make key errors when the ball is on their racket. If only Querrey had a bit of that Ferrer gumption.
The main issue is one of applied pressure. Querrey’s game, beyond the serve, is not built to challenge or press his opponent. His best strategy is to keep the ball in play. Against Cuevas, the plan worked to perfection, allowing him to trade games back and forth until he snuck in a break to claim the first set (6-4). And Querrey backed up his advantage in the early stages of the second set by mixing up his service speed and placement, dropping the mph below 100, with remarkable angles. A dip in concentration, as the two men fought their way to a tiebreak, allowed Cuevas to put the pressure on Querrey, leading to the kinds of errors Querrey usually waits for from his foes.
Just prior to the end of the match, I tweeted that sometimes a tennis match can have 3 distinct acts or just end up as one long act played out over 3 sets. Querrey became more error-prone as this one advanced, leaving me with no sense that he’s ready for the prime time stage of New York and the US Open this year. His act may not make it to the second round at the major either.