Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Following up on his dreamlike 2003 season, 2004 turned out to be a nightmare for the "Mosquito," one Juan Carlos Ferrero.
The free-swinging star enjoyed a breakout campaign last year, piling up 67 match wins, including a coveted French Open title among his four championships. He also achieved world No. 1 status in '03, becoming only the second Spaniard to do so since the world rankings commenced in 1973.
But the skinny righthander struggled mightily in a forgettable '04, a year in which he was riddled with injuries and even battled a bout with the chickenpox.
The 24-year-old was a disappointing 23-16 this past season and failed to add to his career titles tally, which still stands at 11. He reached a semifinal just three times all year, including a loss to the great Roger Federer at the Aussie Open, and lost in his only final, at the hands of fellow former world No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt in Rotterdam. Ferrero didn't reach another semi after succumbing to lefthanded countryman Fernando Verdasco in Valencia, Spain way back in mid-April.
Ferrero suffered bad losses this year against the likes of Aussie Chris "Bob" Guccione (in Sydney) and American Kevin Kim (in Beijing), not to mention one against a seemingly-washed up Alex Corretja in the opening round of the Monte Carlo Masters, where the clay-court wizard that's supposed to be the Mosquito had been the defending champion. He also went 1-2 against smallish Austrian Stefan Koubek, including a stunning second-round setback at the U.S. Open, where he'd reached the final one year earlier.
The former world No. 1 Ferrero failed to title during his injury-plagued '04 season.
Ferrero was a combined 9-4 at the majors this year, but went a pedestrian 4-3 in Grand Slam action following a nice run in Melbourne.
His year came to an anti-climactic finish earlier this month when he was benched in favor of teenager Rafael "The Prodigy" Nadal for the singles portion of the Davis Cup final against the United States in Seville. Sure, the Spaniards captured their second Cup in five years, but the Mosquito was relegated to just doubles duty on the middle day of the tie and came up a big loser, alongside Tommy Robredo, as the mighty Bryan brothers tap danced on the overmatched Spanish tandem in straight sets, including a bagel effort in the opening stanza. Ferrero had taken the place of Nadal, who was pulled out of the "dubs" rubber in order to rest for another potential singles match the following day. In 2000, Ferrero was the Davis Cup hero when the Spaniards beat Australia in Barcelona to claim their long-awaited first-ever chalice, but he was not "in form" earlier this month, mostly because he was battling a blister problem on his hand.
Ferrero, a career 3-19 in doubles at the tour level, was, of course, embarrassed in Seville and could use that as motivation for a resurgent 2005.
"That issue is long forgotten," Ferrero said on getting pulled from the Cup singles. "I feel fortunate to have won a second Davis Cup when I am only 24 years old."
I believe him. Kind of.
Ferrero crossed the finish line at No. 31 in the world this year, after placing No. 3 by the end of 2003, which saw him climb to the top of the ATP ladder with the help of his Roland Garros victory and an appearance in the U.S. Open final (lost to Andy Roddick). Ferrero went from the top of the Spanish heap to No. 4 on the depth chart, behind their newest Davis Cup hero Carlos Moya, Robredo and Feliciano Lopez. And the aforementioned Verdasco is not far behind in the rankings, only five spots and 17 points away from the Mosquito.
It's hard to say if Ferrero (nicknamed the Mosquito because of his speed and small physique) can become No. 1 again, but I can almost guarantee a return to the top 10 in he can stay healthy in the coming year.