Ferrer fights off Amalgro in five

Serving for your first Major semi-final is hard enough. But serving out against David Ferrer, a man against whom you need to hit three winners to make one, makes it even harder. Nothing but self-belief and the execution of the game that had the beating of the man up to that point will do. And you would have to play that game on the final point or else be lured into his web, worn down and devoured.
Nicolas Amalgro was about to serve out for the match against Ferrer. He would hope to get it done in one or else let Ferrer smell fear and attack. Amalgro had played his best to get himself into a position to finally break his Major quarter-final duck. Inspired, he had been hitting single-handed backhands down the line and serving like the big server he is, to claim the first set 6-4. In the second, he kept up his high level, a backhand cross-court winner grabbing him the break at 4-4. At 5-4 serving, a service winner, a forehand down the line and two more service winners and Amalgro was two sets to love up against a man who had beaten him 12 times and from whom he had never taken two consecutive sets. In the third set, he survived break points and frustrated his opponent into shouting at himself and smashing his racket. His backhand was firing, his forehand was working well, and most crucially, he had yet to be broken. All of this should have computed into this mind that he was capable of rallying against history and pulling this upset off. But the mind, as tennis shows us time and time again, does not work on ‘should’.
The game could not have started off better as he strikes a forehand down the line at the net. 15-0. 3 more points and he would have his first victory over Ferrer and his first Major semi-final. The two contest a long rally. The longer it goes on, the more you are drawn into Ferrer’s web. Ferrer can run all day, and if he thinks it will work in his favor, he will make you run even longer, sending you past the sidelines as he finally gets his open court. Amalgro knows, having been drawn into the web 12 times and always been gobbled up. Yet to be lured in this match, he goes for the shot that has never worked for him better than in this match: the backhand down the line. Running to the backhand corner, he strikes the ball down the line.
It goes long.
All those times it had gone in and now it was long! And when he needed it to be in, too. It was too much too soon. Not the making the Major semi-final; he had already made three quarter-finals at Roland Garros, it was time to move on the next stage. And not the beating of Ferrer: 12 times is 11 times too many to lose to the same man. No. He had hit the shot too soon. He had not been in position. On the next point, he would do better. And on the next point, he went for the backhand down the line, again. And again it went out. Again he had not been ready.
An ace. 30-40. A drive volley to the forehand and then another drive volley to the forehand for a winner. Deuce. Two more points. The rally goes on. And on. In Ferrer’s web, Amalgro goes for a big forehand cross-court but his arm is stuck in the webbing. He misses. Another break point down. Another long rally. Amalgro looks to disentangle himself but Ferrer strikes, the open court there, as he had planned, for the taking, his feet in position. A forehand winner down the line from Ferrer and he the number four seed has the break back and is back in the match.
5-5. Amalgro’s chance had slipped through his fingers. Ferrer took advantage while Amalgro was sombre with the sober reality. Ferrer held serve and then broke to love as Amalgro missed a forehand down the line.
The fourth set. Experience tells the spectator that Ferrer will go on to win. Oh the arrogance of experience! we scream. At 1-1, Amalgro paints the lines, gets the winners and forces the errors to break Ferrer to 15. 2-1. Ferrer breaks back; experience, it would seem, is misunderstood. Amalgro shouts. He knows experience worse than anyone out there. 12 defeats. No Major semis. Ferrer holds to love. Amalgro survives a long deuce game, serving his way out of trouble. He fights history, fights experience, fights Ferrer, fights himself. It’s a lot to fight. But Amalgro has it in him as he breaks Ferrer for 4-3. He has to hold to get his chance again. Two aces are the perfect start. But then he is back in the web again and break point down. Amalgro hits a drop short, then a passing shot, but Ferrer hits a winning volley for 4-4.
Amalgro refuses to lie down and be devoured. Not today.4-4, break point Amalgro. Ferrer attacks from the inside out forehand hitting to the backhand, going for the lines and then goes to hit his trademark inside out forehand down the line but it is out. Ferrer challenges and Amalgro reassures him the call was correct as they sit down.
5-4, serving for the match. The second time. He was playing well. Better than well. Amalgro is put on the defense and hits 2 errors to go down 0-30. A forehand winner and there is hope, but hope is all it is. Ferrer attacks his backhand. Amalgro moves to hit an inside out forehand down the line. It hits the net. Well, he had been playing well. Facing two break points, Amalgro attacks, coming to the net and putting pressure on Ferrer to come up with a passing shot. Ferrer errors and one break point is saved. One more break point to save for now, and Amalgro is on the run, goes for the forehand down the line and paints the line for a winner. Here he was, playing well again. Deuce. Ferrer musters all the intensity he can, and it is quite a mustering, and forces Almagro to hit a backhand long. Yet another break point. Amalgro saves it with a second service winner with slice down the tee. Deuce. This is when he needs to play well, right now, and get to match point. On the next point, Amalgro cleans the line with his backhand and full of confidence goes for a forehand down the line. It misses. Another break point down and for Amalgro it proves to be too many blows to the face. Ferrer is unrelenting, spinning his web, those legs never tiring, and he forces a backhand error to get the break.
But though his serve might have been broken, Amalgro’s resolve to win this match was not, still standing in the gales of doubt being blown at him by his opponent’s tenacity. A long deuce game follows. Back and forth, they wrestle control but another forehand error from Ferrer and Amalgro has his third chance to serve out for the set. Ferrer shouts and smashes his racket. Experience tells him that when he fights like this, he gets to wear the belt. It tells him Amalgro cannot beat him, Amalgro does not make Major semis. He does. 7 of them.
Third chance, third time lucky? Amalgro serves with new balls. Before he knows it, he is 15-40. A smash and it is 30-40. A forehand down the line and he has failed, for the third time, to serve out for the match. Perhaps, after all, he really was not ready. But there is no perhaps about it; he isn’t.
That failure to serve out for the match a third time would prove to be the final blow. In the tiebreak, Amalgro has another opponent: cramps. Ferrer takes the tiebreak 7-3, a pace-laden forehand struck right at Amalgro, who, unable to take the pace, makes an error, winning Ferrer the fourth set. On the changeover, Amalgro gets treatment and covers his head with a towel as he lies on his back.
In the final set, Ferrer keeps on spinning and a trapped Amalgro can only fight so long. At 2-2, Ferrer hit a big return to Amalgro’s body which Amalgro nets. Broken, now all Amalgro can do is lay in the web, his wings fluttering lamely, his legs cramping up, his final buzzes drowned out by the hungry grunts from the ever-spinning approaching spider. A winning lob at 4-2 Ferrer and Ferrer has the second break. He stands over Amalgro now, ready to take his bite. His thirteenth, and for the ever-starving Ferrer, it will be as delicious as the previous twelve. He does not have to be too violent either in case the fly should buzz away. On the changeover, Amalgro approaches a sitting Ferrer and taps him on the knee and offers his congratulations. One wonders if a fly has ever rubbed its nose on the jaw of a Spider just before it closes them.
On match point, Ferrer comes in and hits a forehand winner at the net. It is Game set and match Ferrer. The two embrace at the net. Experience was not so arrogant after all.

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Christian Deverille

Christian Deverille is a tennis writer with a diploma in Freelance Sports Writing from the London School of Journalism. He loves all things tennis, most of all the Federer and del Potro forehands.
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