Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Guillermo Coria and David Ferrer: Similar Players, Not So Similar Careers

Tennis Channel recently showed a replay of the epic 2005 Rome final between Guillermo Coria and the emerging Rafael Nadal, won by Nadal 7-6 in the fifth set.  Coria hasn't been on tennis fans' minds for quite some time, but the replay was a reminder of just how much talent he possessed.  It was a further reminder of how quickly things can fall apart.  At one point few players had more promise than Coria, yet it will be a different 5'9'' thirty-three year old (original) clay court specialist who will have left a more lasting impact on the sport. 

Coria and David Ferrer both turned pro in 2000, and it seemed pretty obvious who was going to be the bigger star.  At one point during the 2000 season Coria won four clay court challengers in a row, and cracked the top 100.   By 2001, he had reached the top 30.  Meanwhile, David Ferrer finished both years well outside the top 200. 

The pair first played in 2002 with the Spaniard getting the win, but it was the only time he would top Coria in 5 career meetings.  By 2003 Coria had turned into one of the best players in the world, particularly on clay.  He went a remarkable 60-16 that year, and finished in the top 5.  In 2004, Coria went 39-14, though he suffered one of the most painful losses in tennis history when he fell to Gaston Gaudio in the French Open finals after having held a two-set lead and match points in his favor.  However, Coria rebounded with a very solid 2005, going 55-27 (despite having his clay court thrown taken away by Nadal). 

Meanwhile, the struggling Ferrer posted below 500 records in both 2003 and 2004, before improving to 43-29 in 2005.  Things would only get better for Ferrer, as he's spent most of the last decade in the top 10.  He may be long overshadowed by the Big Four, but there's no denying he's been incredibly successful. 

As successful as Ferrer has been over the last decade, from a tennis standpoint things couldn't have gone worse for Coria.  In 2006 he went 11-14, and in 2007 he lost the only two matches he played in challenger events.  He went 2-8 in 2008 while playing a mix of challengers and ATP events, and by 2009 he was done.  He retired from the game at age 27, saying he lost his passion for the game. 

There are likely several reasons for Coria's drastic decline, including injuries, mental issues (including lingering effects of the Gaudio loss and the "yips" leading to countless double faults), and his self-described loss of desire.  Whatever the reason, Coria's fall was as swift as his rise.  No one can take away his incredible few years, but it's rare (particularly in today's game) to see such a short prime.  He inevitably would have been surpassed by the Big Four, and was already getting passed by Federer and Nadal.  However, a career similar to Ferrer's since 2006 would have been easy to foresee.  For fans of Coria's game, it's just too bad he didn't have a little more of Ferrer's resilience.      

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