Following his defeat of Kei Nishikori in the fourth round, David Ferrer was asked if he felt he belonged among the top group of players on the men’s tour, commonly known as the Big Four.
“No, no. I think the top four, they are better,” he answered immediately.
Pressed further, given his status as the No.4 seed at Australian Open 2013, he simply responded: “It's my opinion.”
It turns out that Ferrer was right. Opinion became fact at Rod Laver Arena on Thursday night as a packed crowd witnessed one of the more comprehensive Grand Slam semifinal drubbings in the game’s history.
Ferrer was outgunned – or destroyed, humiliated, eviscerated, whichever term you prefer – 6-2 6-2 6-1 by top seed and defending champion Novak Djokovic, a result that sends the world No.1 into his fourth final at Melbourne Park in six years. At one hour and 29 minutes, it was shorter than the two women’s semifinals that preceded it, both themselves decided in straight sets yet in a shorter, best-of-three set format.
Some suggested that Ferrer’s torrid five-set quarterfinal defeat of compatriot Nicolas Almagro may have affected his performance. Yet that was played more than two days ago in pleasant temperatures, and Ferrer is lauded for his physical fitness.
No, this was more a case of Djokovic being at the peak of his powers, and the Spaniard completely lacking the weapons to contend. Djokovic struck 30 winners and just 16 errors while Ferrer finished with the unfortunately-inverted tally of 11 and 32.
“It (the result) can only do positive things to my confidence. Definitely at this stage of a tournament, playing semifinals against the world No. 4, somebody that I have respect for, great competitor, and being able to perform as well as I did, it's incredible,” Djokovic said.
“I have a great feeling about myself on the court at this moment. Now I have two days off before the finals which gives me enough time to get ready, and recover for the finals.”
After a couple of games were required to settle in to the semifinal, Djokovic soon found his rhythm and was expertly manoeuvring the ball around the court. Whereas Ferrer is notable for his metronomic stroke production, Djokovic was the more creative, looping balls, chipping slices, venturing to the net and working the angles.
He broke in the fifth game and consolidated to love for a 4-2 lead, then played a trademark open-stance backhand on the full stretch and skid to create another break-point opportunity in the next game, which he converted after Ferrer double-faulted.
The Serb snared the opening set in 29 minutes with an ace, and continued to demoralise his hapless opponent in the second set when he broke serve in the third game. Not even problems with his contact lenses – which saw him widening his eyes and later inserting eye drops at a change of ends – could stop him seeing the ball like a football, and promptly clocking it for winner after winner.
There were both traditional and drive volley winners, clean off-backhands, wrong-footing forehands and the odd serve cranked up the T for a timely ace. Djokovic deployed all his weapons to devastating effect, and was quickly up two-sets-to-love.
The most competitive rally of the match came in the opening game in the third, yet after that 32-stroke exchange, Ferrer erred, handing Djokovic yet another break point. The Serb converted, taking his break point conversion tally to a sparkling five-from-five.
The winners continued to flow, and a linesman’s “out” call simply delayed the inevitable in the fourth game – Djokovic challenged, and Hawkeye deemed another of his shots to have skimmed the sideline for a winner. Ferrer was now down 4-0, but, mercifully, managed to hold with some forceful serving. The sympathetic cheers didn’t last long - Djokovic silenced them with another pair of winners followed by a perfectly-weighted drop shot/lob volley combination.
Leading 5-1 in the next game, Djokovic further embarrassed the No.4 seed with two winning drop shots. Almost as if wanting to end the misery, Ferrer then produced three consecutive errors to hand the Serb the most comprehensive of victories, and a championship match date with either No.2 seed Roger Federer or third seed Andy Murray on Sunday.
Djokovic was asked if he would watch Friday’s second semifinal.
“Of course. I love tennis. Tennis is my life,” he answered.
“I'm not just a player, I'm also a fan of this sport. I love to see these big matches. When Federer and Murray and Nadal are playing, those are the special kind of matches in Grand Slams.”
Earlier in the evening, a journalist in the press room noted that it was roughly 2,200km between Belgrade – Djokovic’s birthplace – and the Spanish town of Javea, where Ferrer was born. The gulf between the Serb and the Spaniard’s level on Thursday night was similarly wide.
Thankfully, for everyone concerned, the gap in the players’ respective playing standards will be significantly narrower come Sunday’s final.