When you list the cities visited by the ATP and WTA tours, Mason, Ohio definitely sticks out. It’s not an cosmopolitan city where an influx of international visitors is commonplace, like New York or London, nor is it a sunsplashed luxury port of call like Monte Carlo or Miami. But, in many ways, Mason represents America as it truly is more than any other stop on the tennis tours. Like America itself, Mason is a city of many sides — it’s got a Waffle House and a Whole Foods, and people representing all walks of American life. That isn’t to say that the tennis crowds are all that different from the ones you see in every tennis tournament — there’s no shortage of luxury German cars in the parking lot or Vera Bradley bags on the grounds, but yet, on Saturday night, they did something surprising — they went all in for David Ferrer.
That isn’t to say that Ferrer, a long-time veteran of the ATP tour, doesn’t have his supporters. He certainly does — though his grinding game isn’t quite as easy on the eyes as that of the Big Four. Starting last year, Ferrer hasn’t quite had the results that kept him a solid top 10 player for the prior five years. But, this week in Mason, Ferrer took advantage of a decimated draw and found himself playing Nick Kyrgios for a spot in the final last night. Based on form and recent results, one would expect the young Australian to take the match handily, but of course, with Kyrgios, most observers know it’s best not to expect anything, but rather to wait and see what happens.
However, it must be noted that Kyrgios wasn’t exactly a crowd favorite all week. The crowd pulled for Rafael Nadal when Kyrgios upset him in the quarterfinal, contrary to most underdog stories. Then again, Nadal is enough of a phenomenon that his popularity is second only to Roger Federer’s in whetting a crowd’s pro-Cobra Kai, sweep-the-leg ferocity. Against Ferrer, though, one expected a little more balance — after all, Kyrgios was trying to become the first player of his tennis “generation” to win a Masters 1000 title, after being thoroughly lapped by Alexander Zverev. And, his style of play, a combination of power, daring, and flash was made for the big stadiums.
In both sets, the players were remarkably even — Kyrgios blasting serves in the high 130s as a matter of course, and Ferrer finding that one last shot more times than one can count. What wasn’t even was the crowd. It’s easy to blame it on the Mohawk-ed, brash upstart, but in some ways Ferrer is a fitting hero for Mason. After all, most of us in life are David Ferrer — able but not superstars, where success comes from opportunity and hard work, rather than an extraordinary amount of talent compared to our peers. And the way he maximizes his ability is how we would like to see ourselves — that, whatever we are given, we would do our best day in and day out — filing a report instead of watching cat videos on YouTube, eating a salad instead of a pizza, or studying instead of going out the night before an exam. Kyrgios, perhaps unfairly, has come to represent the other side of that equation. So, it makes sense, in the most American of cities, the player who best represents the American aspiration of hard work leading to success for the little guy is the one who won the crowd’s rabid support.
But, not unlike life in America today, the player who came into the arena with the greater wealth of talent and, consequently, more daring is the one who left the winner. It was hard not to chuckle as Kyrgios erased break points at the end of first set with drop shots, and harder still not to marvel at the daring shotmaking that helped him win both tiebreaks easily. It’s a hard truth of tennis — no matter how hard some players work, there’s no overcoming the advantages of size and strength and intangible shotmaking talent. But, despite the unfairness of it all, for now, David Ferrer has at least won the respect of the crowd.