Feisty and fiery Wayne Ferreira

South African tennis player Wayne Ferreira had a 6-7 career head-to-head record against the player that he and many others, before the emergence of Roger Federer, regarded as the greatest of them all, Pete Sampras, the winner of a record 14 Grand Slam titles. He also ended his career having played in a record 56 Grand Slam tournaments in succession.

His record against Sampras was a good indication of Ferreira’s ability. It also says a little about the frustrations he suffered from time to time in his career through injury and inconsistency that Sampras won 64 singles and two doubles titles, while Ferreira secured 15 singles crowns and 11 doubles wins.

One thing that Wayne Ferreira showed, though, was a stronger mental attitude than many people have given him credit for. A veteran of the ATP Tour, he made his debut in 1989. Way back then players such as Ivan Lendl, Stefan Edberg and Boris Becker ruled the roost, and John McEnroe was still a factor. Long after those players retired, Ferreira was still around, eventually retiring in 2005.

First title

His first title came in doubles in 1990 when he teamed with Piet Norval to win a low-key event in Durban. The previous year Ferreira had been the world’s top ranked junior doubles player. At the end of the year he and Stefan Kruger defeated Paul Haahuis and Mark Koevermans to add another victory in Adelaide. Playing with Norval again, he recorded a big win in Key Biscayne, seeing off the highly ranked Ken Flach and Robert Seguso to lift his third doubles crown.

Ferreira first made a big splash in June 1992 when he won the biggest grass court tournament in the run up to Wimbledon, taking the title at the Queen’s Club in London, and losing only one set on his way to the title. He obviously enjoyed the winning experience because just two months later he added a second title to his list of achievements, capturing the ATP Tour event in Schenectady, New York. He also enjoyed success in doubles, winning with Jim Grabb in Auckland and then claiming Olympic silver with Piet Norval in Barcelona.

In 1993 Ferreira didn’t win a tournament, but he was reasonably consistent and made two finals, losing to 1992 world number one Jim Courier in the final of the Masters Series event in Indianapolis and going down to 1991 Wimbledon champion and grass court star Michael Stich in the final of the Queen’s event. He did, at least, record another doubles success, teaming with Stich to win in Los Angeles.

Rediscovered his winning touch

Ferreira rediscovered the winning touch in a big way in 1994. In March he claimed victory in Hawaii, beating Richey Reneberg for the title. Later in the year he became one of the hottest players on the circuit. In August he won the ATP event in Indianapolis and then followed that up with another title in early September in Bordeaux. Later that month Ferreira added a fourth title in Basel and just two weeks later, in early October, he defeated Amos Mansdorf in Tel Aviv to finish with five tournament victories for the year. However, his biggest win probably came on 16 December when he married Liesl.

In May 1995 Ferreira reached his highest ever world ranking, rising to number six. His year’s results included four tournament wins. In February he won in Dubai, dropping just one set on his way to the title. Then, in May, he recorded a big victory in Munich, beating home favourite Michael Stich 7-5, 7-6 to seal an excellent clay court win. He also made it a double success by claiming the doubles title with Yevgeny Kafelnikov. In October he won events in successive weeks, defeating Malivai Washington in the title decider in Ostrava and then edging world number two, Pete Sampras, 7-6, 5-7, 6-3 for victory in Lyon.

Early in 1996 Ferreira disposed of Marcelo Rios in the final of the ATP event in Scottsdale to add another title to his name. In the Olympics, in Atlanta, he made it through to the quarterfinals and gave Andre Agassi, who went on to win the title, a very tough time before the American won 7-5, 4-6, 7-5. Shortly after the Olympics, Ferreira registered a huge win, capturing the Super Nine tournament – today known as the Masters Series – in Toronto.

Titles dried up

Suddenly, though, the titles dried up. In 1997 Ferreira couldn’t put himself in a position to win a title when he failed to reach the finals of any event. He made the semi finals in Gstaad and Indianapolis, but that was as good as it got. The following year he again fell short in the semi finals of tournaments, losing in the final four in Dubai, London, Washington and Lyon.

However, Ferreira did taste victory in doubles as he and Yevgeny Kafelnikov won in Antwerp. In 1999 he managed to make it through to the final of the International Gold Series event in Tokyo, but Nicolas Kiefer stopped him in two tight sets. He and Byron Black did, however, team up to capture another doubles crown in Los Angeles to help him remember what tournament success was about.

To some people it appeared that Ferreira was over the hill, a spent force. 2000 did, however, start off very well for the South African as he teamed with Amanda Coetzer to win the Hopman Cup, an event featuring the top male and female player from the top tennis playing countries around the world. Showing improved form he made the semi finals in San Jose and Toronto and the quarterfinals in Memphis, Miami, Nottingham, Los Angeles and Indianapolis.

Masters victory

It was solid stuff, but he certainly stunned the tennis world when, in late October, he won the Masters Series event in Stuttgart, defeating world number seven Thomas Enqvist and world number 14 Mark Philippoussis on his way to the title decider, where he sneaked by future world number one Lleyton Hewitt. In an epic battle Ferreira triumphed 7-6, 3-6, 6-7, 7-6, 6-2 to prove that his career was far from over. He and Kafelnikov also notched up a big win in the Masters Series in Monte Carlo, seeing off Paul Haarhuis and Sandon Stolle 6-3, 2-6, 6-1 to lift the title.

While he failed to repeat his singles success of 2000, he enjoyed his best results yet in doubles in 2001, winning Masters Series events in Indian Wells and Rome in March and May respectively.

The final ATP singles title of his career came in 2003 in Los Angeles when he ousted top-seed Lleyton Hewitt in the championship decider 6-3, 4-6, 7-5 to take the honours.

Ferreira was, at times, accused of not always trying his hardest to win. However, his lengthy career at the top, playing through injuries and pain that hampered him, dispel this accusation. He was accused of being moody, but that is really an on-court reflection of his desire to win. Off the court he is an absolute delight, relaxed, charming and willing to give of his time.

Davis Cup competition

He was an excellent patriot, representing South Africa in both the Davis Cup and the Hopman Cup. For over 10 years he was the country’s number-one ranked player and he became the first South African in history to rank in the world’s top 10 in consecutive years when he managed the feat in 1995 and 1996.

By the end of his career, Ferreira has won just short of $10-million on the court. Considering how much prize money has risen in recent years, and that he began his professional career in 1989, that figure reflects just how successful he was. He had, by the time he retired, proved himself one of the finest players in South Africa’s history.

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