David Ferrer might not have filled out an NCAA Tournament bracket, but he definitely busted a few on Thursday night in Miami.
It is March, which means I am covering the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament as a paid writing job for multiple publications. For this brief period of time — which does not apply to tournaments other than Indian Wells or Miami — I am not able to watch quite as much tennis as I would like, though next week (the second week of Miami), I will be able to watch a fair amount of tennis except on Thursday night, March 28.
My immersion in “March Madness” means that at this very moment, I am focused on something called a “12-5 upset.” Americans know exactly what this means, but for international readers who don’t, I will offer a very quick explanation.
You might know that I favor the use of “NCAA-style seeding” at majors to eliminate the randomness of draws. (The NCAA seeding system would be used in tandem with grass, clay, or hardcourt-specific rankings formulas to provide diversity of seeds at the four majors.) An NCAA seeding system — spread across four regions (four quarters of a draw if compared to tennis) — involves top versus bottom seeds and middle seeds versus middle seeds.
1 plays 16 at the ends of a bracket, while 8 plays 9 as the middle seeds in a bracket.
All these seeding combinations include a matchup between a 5 seed and a 12 seed. (If you have 16 teams in a section of a draw, the seed totals for the initial matchups must all equal 17 — that’s an easy way of understanding an NCAA Tournament’s regional bracket.)
The matchup between a 5 seed and a 12 seed is the matchup where the lower seed (the 12) enjoys a noticeably larger degree of success compared to the other higher seeds.
A No. 1 seed has lost only once in 40 years of NCAA Tournament history. A No. 2 seed has lost several times. No. 3 seeds have lost more than the No. 2 seeds have lost, and the No. 4 seeds have lost more than the No. 3 seeds… but only when you get to the 5-versus-12 matchup does the balance of power become especially even. No. 12 seeds have played close to .500 against No. 5 seeds in recent years, and occasionally, they win a majority of the time.
Thursday, a 12 seed beat a 5 seed… and in a blowout: Murray State beat Marquette by 19 points, 83-64.
Again, I don’t know if David Ferrer filled out a bracket. Spain takes its basketball seriously, and Ferrer is good friends with future Basketball Hall of Fame inductee Pau Gasol, but I don’t know if Ferru follows American college basketball.
Little did Ferrer know that he also pulled a 12-5 upset against Sam Querrey.
Wait — Ferrer wasn’t a 12 seed. He wasn’t any kind of seed at all. Querrey sure wasn’t a 5 seed. He also wasn’t a seeded player.
No, this wasn’t a 12-5 upset based on seeds. It was a 12-5 upset on the scoreboard: Ferrer d. Querrey, 6-3, 6-2.
12 games to 5.
Now that you know what this particular 12-5 upset means, let’s discuss its significance:
Very simply, David Ferrer, as he prepares to ride into the sunset of his tennis career, can still play ball. He can still lock in on returns and make a good server look bad. Ferrer’s skills and capacities have obviously eroded, but they haven’t vanished. There is still the fighting spirit, of course — that has never left — but there is also enough game, enough quality, in Ferru to create more meaningful moments and show that this victory lap is not merely a collection of kind words.
It is still a serious and professional pursuit of match victories in a career which has accumulated over 725 of them.
It is easy — and appropriate — to laud a fighting spirit. It is exponentially more impressive when a fighter lands punches and leaves the boxing ring with his hands raised in victory.
David Ferrer can still do it — not as often as he used to, but enough to make all of us smile during March Madness.
A 12-5 upset rarely tasted this good. ONIONS WITH PAELLA FOR EVERYONE!