If Juan Carlos Ferrero has been very quiet in recent months, it's because he was waiting quietly for "his" Valencia ATP tournament to bow out. A star in the early 2000s and winner at Roland Garros in 2003, the Spaniard was then violently dispossessed of his title of “King of Clay” by an even stronger young fellow than him, Rafael Nadal. Here are 10 booster shots to revive the career of a great champion, unfairly forgotten.
1/ Por qué te vas ?
After leaving his family home of Onteniente in 1994 at 14 to live among the olive groves of the magnificent Academy of Villena, of which he is now co-director, Juan Carlos Ferrero nearly gave it all up a few months later. When he was 16, his mother died of cancer. Ferrero was world champion in his age category but had no will to fight. His coach, his father and his sisters managed to convince him. "This is what your mother would have wanted," they told him. Since then, he has dedicated each of his victories to her.
2/ El mosquito
It’s a strange idea to compare a tennis player to a biting-bloodsucker insect. In his first steps on the tour, Ferrero was only swearing by red clay. With his small size (6 ft. for 160 lb.) and the speed of his forehand, he bit without anyone seeing him coming, hence the nickname. It’s certainly better than his other nickname, "Chavalito" - little fella in Spanish - which, albeit with tenderness, is preferred by his Spanish colleagues.
Between the reign of Gustavo Kuerten and that of Rafael Nadal, Juan Carlos was the king of Roland Garros. On his debut in 2000, he set the pace by reaching the semi-finals. What happened next is irresistible. Semi-finalist again in 2001, he played the final in 2002 and won - logically - in 2003. At 23, he was predicted to lord it like Borg on the Parisian clay... The newspaper L'Equipe went over the top in its headlines: "A reign begins. This first title will probably not be the last." Unfortunately for the journalist, and especially for the Spaniard, in Paris it would be.
4/ Ferrero on his Rocher
In 2003, the guy’s statistics are incredible. On the evening of Roland Garros final, he had won twenty-eight times on clay since the beginning of the year. Huge. And, at a time when across the Pyrenees people didn't know where Flushing Meadows and Wimbledon were, he didn't intend to stop there: "I want to become world number one, and also win the U.S. Open to silence all those who think that the Spanish players couldn't play on hard courts." First mission accomplished: he spent eight weeks at the top between September and October 2003. For the second, he wasn't far off: he lost in the final after victories over Agassi and Hewitt in earlier rounds.
5 / The monk of Villena has nice cars
No law requires a champion to have charisma but Juan Carlos has often been criticized for his choirboy looks. Throughout his career, the Spaniard has lived like a monk in Villena, in a bungalow out in the middle of the countryside, isolated from everything: "It’s true, Villena is not a clubbing paradise but I don’t go out anyway. I'm not used to big cities, I'm used to my life and that of others doesn’t make me feel jealous." This makes you wonder how he could be one of the best friends of Marat Safin, also born in 1980 but not really guided by the same philosophy. With the prize money, no madness either, except for cars, his second passion. In Villena, if you see a Porsche, a Mitsubishi or a Mercedes SLX 500 parked in the street, it is surely his...
6 / Chickenpox
The year 2004, the one when he had to confirm his status, started badly. Chickenpox, first. Then the right wrist. Then the ribs. Then the left thigh adductors. Everything felt apart! And his ranking with it... In one year, he went from the 3rd to 31st place in the world and became a regular visitor to the operating room... And as a misery loves company, a young fellow took his place while he had his back turned. His name: Rafael Nadal. In 2005, Ferrero was no longer fashionable. Between September 2005 and July 2009, there was no more room for him in the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas, a tournament that he won twice, in 2000 and 2004.
7 / Anonymity
In the early 2000s, Juan-Carlos triggered hysteria when walking through the alleys of Roland Garros. After Nadal arrived, Ferrero was relegated to the outside courts, one-by-one. In 2008, he withdrew in the first round against the Brazilian Marcos Daniel in the court number 6 in front of... a few dozen spectators, and only a few lines in the newspapers...
8 / Nadal and the desert
"What do you think of Nadal?", "What is the strength of Nadal?" Since 2005, Ferrero press conferences distil discomfort. While the new king takes it all, he picks up the crumbs. After his great 2003 season, Ferrero wandered without a title for 6 years. It was not until 2009 that he won another tournament. The trigger? A victory against Nadal (who else?) in Rome. But, once again, Ferrero was cursed. It was widely reported that Nadal had lost due to a huge blister, and nowhere that Ferrero himself had a groin injury...
9 / The outrage
In October 2008, Ferrero had recovered from his injuries in the spring but he didn't play the Masters 1000 Madrid. The reason: A big quarrel with the organizers, Ion Tiriac and Manolo Santana, who didn't offer him an invitation, considering that he wasn’t a safe bet anymore, especially indoors. They attempted to soften the blow but Ferrero, upset, didn't listen. "They attacked the player and the man.” said his coach. “Juan Carlos thought he was worthless." Seeing the growing controversy, Rafael Nadal intervened and said he was sad to see the former world number one treated so badly. A scant consolation.
After fifteen years on the tour, thirty-four tournaments won, and nearly seven hundred and fifty games played in singles, Ferrero decided to stop running after his past. His place, at number 162, in the ATP rankings is one of the causes. In early September, he announced that the tournament in Valencia, where he’s now a major shareholder with David Ferrer, would be his last outing on the ATP Tour: "The best place for me!" A ceremony is planned with all his mates, Corretja, Moya, Nadal, golfer Sergio Garcia and... then? In the short term, his future will be written in Villena, with his academy, his monastic life and a few rides in his car.
By Julien Pichené