At 29, Juan Carlos Ferrero Shows He's Not Done Yet

By Zach Berman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 5, 2009

On Sunday, Juan Carlos Ferrero played in the final of a tournament in Umag, Croatia. He boarded a plane Monday morning and flew halfway across the globe to Washington. Ferrero arrived at 7 p.m. Monday, tried to squeeze in sleep despite a convoluted body clock and took the court Tuesday evening for a first-round draw at the Legg Mason Tennis Classic against Nicolas Lapentti.

"We're tennis players -- this is what we're used to," Ferrero said.

Ferrero, 29, is in the 11th season of a career that once saw him ranked No. 1 in the world. Earlier this year, there was speculation about how much longer Ferrero will continue enduring that lifestyle. The answer will be determined by how frequently he can finish with results like Tuesday's first-round victory.

After splitting the first two sets, 6-4, 6-7 (5-7), Ferrero disposed Lapentti, 6-0, in the third set to take the match. He advanced to play fellow Spaniard Tommy Robredo on Wednesday at 4 p.m. on the grandstand at William H.G. FitzGerald Tennis Center.

This decade began with Ferrero among a group of young sensations expected to carry the torch from the tennis stars of the 1990s. As the decade wanes, Ferrero admits his career could soon conclude -- even as he experiences a bit of a revival.

He won an ATP event in Casablanca, Morocco, in April for his first victory since 2003 -- the same year Ferrero reached the world's top ranking. Ferrero's second-place finish in Croatia made 2009 the first year since 2005 in which he reached the final in more than one tournament.

He won the French Open in 2003 after losing in the final the year before. Later that summer, Ferrero was on the losing end of Andy Roddick's lone major championship at the U.S. Open.

Injuries and the emergence of a new generation of tennis stars left Ferrero consistently among the top 25 but seldom a tournament champion. In 2008, he finished outside the top 50 for the first time since he was a rookie.

"I'm motivated again," Ferrero said. "I think I can play at the same level I did before. I want to keep going, be motivated all the time. It doesn't matter if it's here or the U.S. Open."

Outside interests that include the 2007 opening of a luxury hotel 50 minutes south of Valencia and a tennis academy established in his home town of Villena make Ferrero something of a rarity in sports: one who can gracefully transition into life after competition.

Yet Tuesday's match showed why Ferrero contemplates prolonging his career. A larger-than-usual crowd gathered in the grandstand and applauded Ferrero at the end of a match that tested endurance as much as it did skill.

Lapentti often overpowered Ferrero -- he had 10 aces to Ferrero's two -- but Ferrero was efficient when the pressure mounted. He won 4 of 6 break points, whereas Lapentti was 0 for 8.

Most impressive was the way he rebounded in the third set after surrendering opportunities to win the match in the second-set tiebreaker. During the changeover, Ferrero took a seat along the sideline, changed from a red shirt into a white one and gave himself instructions: "Push a little more."

The same sequence might explain Ferrero's future. He said if he finishes in the top 20, he will continue playing. His goal is to finish in the top 15, although he is currently ranked No. 29 -- a number that could ascend depending on the next few days in Washington.

"I don't know how many years," Ferrero said. "It's difficult to play 15 or something. If I keep playing at the level of this year, next year for sure. Then, we'll see."

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