© Peter Staples/ATP World Tour

David Ferrer begins his final US Open against compatriot and World No. 1 Rafael Nadal

Fiery Ferrer Ready For Nadal Showdown In Final US Open

Ferrer won the pair's only previous meeting here in 2007

Goodbyes are never easy, but saying farewell in New York will be particularly difficult this year for David Ferrer, who announced this will be the last US Open of his career. The 36-year-old Spaniard is one of the most successful players his country has ever produced and while he’s seemed an ageless wonder, the end of the road now seems to be near.

What has motivated Ferrer throughout the 2018 season, aware it may be the last in which he enters a Grand Slam, has been knowing he’ll get the chance to wave goodbye to the crowd in Flushing Meadows come late August, 15 years since the first time he stepped foot onto a court at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center as a professional. His opening-round opponent this year? World No. 1 Rafael Nadal, the same player who denied him a chance at a major title by defeating Ferrer in the 2013 Roland Garros final.

Of course, Ferrer will have plenty of time to go back on his decision and soldier on instead of hanging up his racquet for good, should he so choose. The plan for now is to play at Auckland, Buenos Aires, Acapulco, Barcelona and Madrid in 2019. It’s there, on the clay of “Caja Magica” that Ferrer is planning his last “hurrah” in a decorated career that has seen him earn 27 ATP World Tour titles, another 25 finals, 726 match wins, and a career-high No. 3 in the ATP Rankings.

Ferrer knows himself better than anyone. He’s seen the telltale signs of retirement coming for a while now, and is looking forward to making the stop in Madrid his last. And while he feels his level of play is still up to par, it’s his 36-year-old body that’s betraying him. With that breakdown comes a lack of motivation.

“You notice that you can’t react the way you once did, and that you don’t recover from matches as quickly,” Ferrer told Spanish newspaper El Espanol, where he first announced the news of his imminent retirement. “I’d like to finish the 2019 season, and my career, in front of my people in Spain. It isn’t that I’m not playing good tennis; rather it’s a physical thing. I can’t play more than one or two consecutive matches without feeling the effects.

"I love tennis and I don’t feel like calling it quits, but the level at which I can compete is not fulfilling enough to make the effort to go out and play at lower-level tournaments.”

This season, Ferrer has drifted further from the numbers that distinguished him as one of the tour’s premiere players in the past decade. His record in 2018 is 9-17, dropping him to 148th in the ATP Rankings and placing him out of Top 100 for the first time since he broke into it in July 2002. For a player who has posed as the picture of consistency, it’s all been tough to bear. Still, being the fighter he is, Ferrer is finding ways to compromise.

“It takes its toll at first, but then you learn to deal with it and come to terms with the fact you aren’t the same player,” Ferrer said. “There are characteristics I still maintain to this day, at my age. Run down one more ball, force the opponent to win the point over and over again, hustle from side to side, scrape a shot together when your opponent is already celebrating, defend until the end. I still have that in me.”

There’s no questioning the competitive gene will always be a part of Ferrer’s DNA. It should also provide for a fun and competitive first-round match when Ferrer faces his old foe and countryman Nadal on Monday night. The two have grown on a tennis level over the years and know each other well.

"I want to win, and I'll play against Rafa with that intention because that's just part of who I am, it’s in my blood. I'm knocking on the door of retirement, but I won’t go down without a fight," said Ferrer, who knows what it takes to compete on a stage like Arthur Ashe Stadium.

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What were the 2007 and 2012 semi-finalist’s thoughts when he found out it was the World No. 1 and defending champion he would be facing in the first round?

"In the end I was happy," Ferrer said. "It's going to be my last Grand Slam and for me it's an honour to get the chance to play against Rafa on the grandest stage at the US Open. I'm happy because tennis has given me that gift."

Ferrer will be playing in his 47th match in Flushing Meadows. He’ll be doing so without the immense pressure of having to win, a pressure that has accompanied him throughout all his previous appearances. This year, he intends on enjoying and savoring every moment, every point and every shot. It's his last big date in New York and he has nothing to lose. And all of that could wind up making him that more dangerous.

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