He honored his mother with a great career

A blonde and a little reclusive clay specialist whose tactic was to hit the ball at least once more than their opponent. Who could it be? Sure, it could have been, Mats Wilander, Kent Carlsson, Joakim Nyström, or any other of the stars who created the Swedish tennis miracle.

 

But it was Juan Carlos Ferrero - one of the biggest names in the feared Spanish tennis armada.

Maybe it's still not a coincidence that Ferrero, in certain ways was very similar to  some of the Swedish players who dominated gravel in the 1980s. Spanish coaches - as well as coaches from many other countries - traveled to the small country in the north to try to figure out the secrets behind Sweden’s tennis success.  

Now it was of course no secret in the truest sense, but everything was based on common sense: the one who hits the ball over the net and inside the lines more times than the opponent can emerge victorious.

By adding more power and top-spin, the Spanish coaches developed and refined the Swedish model. Juan Carlos Ferrero was seven years old when he began playing tennis in 1987, the year when Wilander reached his fourth final in Paris where Sweden had a finalist in ten of the eleven past finals. 

The low key and somewhat reclusive talent from Onteniente quickly showed that he had great talent for the sport.

When he was fifteen-years-old Ferrero moved to his coach Antonio Martinez Cascales and Villena Tennis Academy, the academy which later was taken over by Ferrero and since then bears his name: the JC Ferrero Equelite Sports Academy.

Just a year after moving to the Academy in Villena, Juan Carlos Ferrero was hit by a tragedy. His mother Rosario passed away. Rosario Ferrero had never been fond of tennis players who joked on the court, however she was fond of those who regardless of playing level, who kept a low profile and took their profession seriously.

To honor the memory of her mother, Juan Carlos Ferrero decided to become just such a player.

Throughout his successful career, he lived up to the goal, indeed, to the point that despite the successes remained more anonymous than many of its less successful but more outgoing competitors.

Unfair? Yes, some might think that a world number one, Grand Slam and Davis Cup winner with 16 ATP titles on the merit list should get more attention than Ferrero received but, this is unfortunately how the industry works.

Many journalists' ignorance and/or indifference to focus on the game, tactics and battles and instead highlight irrelevant things allows players who do not stand out with their behavior on or off the court easily end up outside of the limelight regardless of results.

During his final year as a junior Ferrero went to the final of the French championship in the boy’s singles where the men's singles final was a Spanish duel in which Carlos Moya defeated Alex Corretja in straight sets.

Spain was the world's leading tennis nation on clay and Ferrero was a future leader of the Spanish tennis armada.  The year after the boy's singles final at Roland Garros, he climbed 302 spots in the rankings and finished 43rd, which earned him the award as the” Newcomer of the year” on the ATP tour.

A year later he won the Lleyton Hewitt Davis Cup final against Australia and during the 2000-2003 seasons Ferrero was the tennis world's undisputed king of clay. During that period, he had a 111-25 match hindsight on his favourite court and after the 2002 final loss in Paris against countryman Albert Costa, Ferrero was 2003 winner at Roland Garros.

Many of his Spanish predecessors at the top of the world ranking had been pronounced clay specialists who fell short on quicker surfaces. For instance, several Spanish top players were so alienated on grass that at Wimbledon they got a seeding that fell far short of their ranking. This led to several Spanish players boycotting Wimbledon for a few years.  

Ferrero worked hard to develop his game, sharpened his serve and forehand, and became very skilled all-round player. This also applies to many of his countrymen and that both courts and balls were made slower this increased their chances of success even on hard courts and grass.

In autumn 2003, Ferrero entered the final of the US Open but was defeated there against home favorite Andy Roddick, who later in the year took over first place in the ranking to Ferrero, who at the time had topped the list in eight weeks.

It took five years before Spain by Rafael Nadal's would return to be ranked world nr. 1.

Juan Carlos Ferrero has inspired Nadal, David Ferrer and many other of his followers.

"Juan Carlos was very important for us, he was the one who decided when Spain took the Davis Cup title for the first time and he opened the door for young Spanish players," said Ferrer.

Juan Carlos Ferrero had a place in the top ten during 176 weeks in a row just underlines his greatness. He took 13 of his 16 titles on clay and including four Masters Tournaments. The question is whether the tournament in Casablanca in 2009 is one of the most surprising. Ferrero at this point had had some heavy seasons behind him. Injuries and out of shape meant that he had not taken a title in five seasons and 110 tournaments when he was struck gold in Morocco's largest city.

This triumph was followed by four more, the last one in Stuttgart in 2011 - on the clay course.

Already during his career Ferrero invested money in the academy where he himself grew and became such a great player, which as a modest complex compared to today. More than 20 courts, gyms, swimming pools, school building, restaurant and cafe are just some what is contained there - plus Ferrero's own residence.

In an interview, he said:

"Some other pros have given their name to an academy but if you don’t put the work into the academy does it is useless."

Ferrero is almost always present at the academy, and essentially acts as an advisor to the coaches and the players.

His best advice?

"Be humble and work hard. These are keys to become good. And make sure to return the ball once more than the opponent. "

He teaches as he played as a professional.

And just like his mother, Rosario, desired.

 

Jonas Arnesen, tennisreporter

Kings of tennis

8-10 Mars 2017