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David Ferrer, the Ordinary Time tennis player

Matt Zemek

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Susan Mullane - USA TODAY Sports

You don’t have to be a religious person to be aware of the term “Christmas and Easter Catholic.” That’s the person who doesn’t go very often to Mass but will attend on Christmas and/or Easter, the high points of the year which are soaked in cultural importance or social esteem. Many people who aren’t fervently religious or overly churched still want to go to Christmas Midnight Mass to see if they will taste something special, or feel something vibrant, or hear something profound, to give them hope. Easter, though not as culturally potent as Christmas in most of the Western world, operates on a similar level, just on a smaller scale.

In Catholicism, in religion at large, and in many other facets of our existence, human life owns a few moments each year which tower above the rest in their hold on the popular imagination. For better or worse, Christmas carries a huge place in many lives — not necessarily because people even choose Christmas as something important (though in many cases they do), but because the feast/holiday/occasion exerts such enormous influence on life, its patterns and demands.

Yet, while there are a few days or moments each year which always get our attention — whether we like it or not — most of the year is lived in between or away from those big cultural, social or personal occasions.

Most of the year is lived in Ordinary Time, the Catholic liturgical season which exists between Advent-Christmas and Lent-Easter.

Most of the Catholic year is lived in the season of Ordinary Time. Advent occupies the month before the brief Christmas season. Lent is a 40-day season, Easter a 50-day season. The vast expanse on the calendar from June through late November is Ordinary Time. The liturgical color for Advent and Lent is purple, and the color for Christmas and Easter is white.

The color for Ordinary Time, the season of summer and the vast midsection of the Catholic Church liturgical year? Green… which is why David Ferrer is shown in green in the picture accompanying this story.

David Ferrer IS the Ordinary Time tennis player. That’s no insult. That’s no putdown. That’s no veiled swipe or subtle knock. It really is (I think) the best way to capture the essence of this career.

Ferrer did not rise to the awesome heights of the elites who shared this era of men’s tennis. Rafael Nadal presided over triumphant Easter liturgies at Roland Garros. Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic celebrated Christmas inside the grand cathedral of tennis, Centre Court Wimbledon. The high holy occasions in tennis belonged to the Big 3. Ferrer was not the chief celebrant or concelebrant at those ornate, bells-and-whistles liturgies.

Ferrer, though, put in the work. He showed up every day. He was consistently, constantly, productive. He embodied the dignity of work, the importance of effort, the power of a positive example, and how far it can take a person in this difficult life and this complicated world.

It is very hard to win professional tennis matches. We see it every day. Global headlines aren’t written about the thousands upon thousands of players who can’t gain traction at the top level of tennis. One such example came earlier this week, when I wrote about Pablo Carreno Busta and Nikoloz Basilashvili. 

For all the immensely talented players — Philipp Kohlschreiber, Pablo Cuevas, Fabio Fognini, Martin Klizan, Richard Gasquet, Gael Monfils, Nicolas Almagro, and so many others — who never won a major title, David Ferrer stands in a distinctly different position.

Sure, like all those other men, Ferrer never won a major title, but he occupies unique territory in that he did not have nearly the same eye-popping skills or shotmaking capacity as those others. His return of serve was truly elite, but his ultimate weapons were his mind and his body. The mind got out of the way, and the body did what the mind allowed it to do.

In his effort, in his patience, in his dedication, in his poise, in his clarity of focus, Ferrer got so much more out of his game than the vast majority of his peers. Had he been born into a different era of tennis, he surely would have been rewarded with a fatter trophy case. In the six major semifinals Ferrer reached, only one came against a player outside the Big 3 (Jo-Wilfried Tsonga at Roland Garros in 2013).

Ferrer won that match.

His one major final — 2013 Roland Garros — came against Nadal.

His one Masters Cup (now ATP Finals) championship match, in 2007? It came against Roger Federer.

Ferrer didn’t reach spectacular Christmas Eve or Easter Sunday heights, but his labor in the summer of Ordinary Time brought him over 730 match victories, many years in the top eight in the face of superior opposition, and a career far more productive than many peers who were far more talented at hitting a tennis ball.

David Ferrer is that man — you probably know at least one in your life and its frame of experience — who doesn’t seek the limelight, doesn’t like a fuss or a theatrical production about anything he does, and doesn’t feel the need to let everyone else know what he is doing…

but he keeps a community intact.

He makes sure the bills are paid on time. He sends the thank-you notes to volunteers. He makes sure everyone has the necessary supplies at all times. He delivers the newspapers in your apartment complex at 5 in the morning. He knows how to patch a leak or fix a valve in your car and will take care of that problem if he can.

He won’t win awards or go to fancy dinners. He won’t be written about in the history books with the sweeping, soaring tones reserved for icons and legends and larger-than-life figures.

He will, however, be respected by everyone in the room, everyone in the village, everyone in the neighborhood, everyone in the quiet suburban parish.

On the night of October 3, midday on February 11, or on the morning of July 28 — those quiet moments far removed from the Christmases and Easters of a year, David Ferrer, the Ordinary Time tennis player, would work to be good at his craft and enjoy the simple satisfaction of doing something well.

We need that example. That example keeps communities running and knits so many lives together in ways which are easy to miss or underappreciate.

David Ferrer gave that example to tennis for roughly two decades.

Gracias, Ferru. You won’t be forgotten here.

Matt Zemek is the co-editor of Tennis With An Accent with Saqib Ali. Matt is the lead writer for the site and helps Saqib with the TWAA podcast, produced by Radio Influence at radioinfluence.com. Matt has written professionally about men's and women's tennis since 2014 for multiple outlets: Comeback Media, FanRagSports, and independently at Patreon, where he maintains a tennis site. You can reach Matt by e-mail: mzemek@hotmail.com. You can find him on Twitter at @mzemek.

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    Jim Smerbeck

    May 9, 2019 at 4:04 pm

    In children’s liturgy, our lector/volunteer would remind us every week that “there’s nothing ordinary about Ordinary Time.” Similarly, there’s been nothing ordinary about Ferrer’s career.

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