WHAT HAPPENED: Rafael Nadal and David Ferrer, Spanish compatriots, Davis Cup teammates and longtime friends on tour, contested the final at the French Open in 2013. On a swampy Monday evening, in the year’s final major and the one that Ferrer has said will be his last, the two veterans again met, this time in the first round.
The Spaniards are at very different places in their careers. Nadal, 32, is No. 1 in the world, 41-3 on the year with five titles, and returning US Open champion. Ferrer, 36, is a two-time US Open semifinalist but down to a ranking of 148 and just 9-18 in matches this year. Ferrer is also a new father to four-month-old Leo.
Ferrer had defeated Nadal in their only previous meeting at Flushing Meadows, back in 2007, but for the first time in 208 Grand Slam matches, Ferrer was forced to retire with a calf injury midway through the second set.
"I tried to play," Ferrer told Brad Gilbert of ESPN on court after his retirement. "This is my last Grrand Slam of my career. I am so sorry that I can’t finish the match.
"I will miss you a lot," the clearly dejected Spaniard told the crowd.
Nadal had won the first set convincingly, 6-3, though neither player was at his best. In the second set, Nadal dropped his opening serve game but then locked into a groove, swatting hard groundstroke winners to the corners before Ferrer called for the trainer a first time.
Nadal promptly appeared to lose concentration and even fell behind in the set 3-4 before a hobbled Ferrer called it quits.
Photos: Rafael Nadal defeats David Ferrer in Round 1
WHAT IT MEANS: Ferrer, at 5-foot-9, has long been considered the consummate overachiever, one of the top competitors and hardest-working men in tennis. The Valencian finished in the Top 10 seven years, and he is one of four active players with at least 700 wins on tour (Ferrer is in good company; the others are Nadal, Roger Federer, and Novak Djokovic). Ferrer reached a career-high ranking of No. 3 in 2013, and with 145 career victories at majors, he has the most wins without a Slam championship.
Ferrer owns six career wins over the 17-Slam winner Nadal, but for most of their head-to-head, the Mallorcan has had simply too much muscle and too much game for the outgunned Ferrer.
MATCH POINT: Having to retire in his final Grand Slam appearance was certainly not the swan song Ferrer deserved, something his friend Nadal recognized. “I am very sorry for him,” said Nadal. “He is one of [my] closest friends on tour. He was one of the greatest players of our country, so it is very sad that he had to retire.”
Their last meeting in a Slam ended in an empathetic hug at the net.