David Ferrer bidding to secure place at Rio 2016

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Spanish star David Ferrer.

David Ferrer has been a constant figure in the world’s top-10 for most of the past eight years, cementing his status as one of the best of this generation, yet when you discuss the Olympics with the tireless Spaniard, he does not take for granted the fact that he will actually be there.

Spain is the most-represented country in the world’s top-100, with 15 players enjoying that status in the ATP rankings, and Ferrer knows he must world hard for the first half of the season to make sure he is one of the best four Spaniards in the charts to secure a spot at the Rio Games in August.

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At 33, Ferrer has competed in the last two Olympic Games in London 2012 and Beijing 2008, and considering his success in Latin America – he has won eight titles there throughout his career – the world No7 admits Rio next year is a big goal for him.

Known as one of the hardest-working players on tour, Ferrer is used to playing a full schedule each season but he says that in 2016, he might actually lighten the load to be fresh for the Olympics.

“Yes maybe this year I will play less tournaments. Of course the Olympic Games is a goal for me because – I’m not sure – but maybe it’s going to be my last Olympic Games and I want to be there. So maybe in the one month before the Olympics maybe I’ll play only one tournament,” Ferrer told reporters yesterday at Yas Mall, where he met fans and signed autographs ahead of his opening match in the Mubadala World Tennis Championship today.

Asked whether he plans on playing more than one event in Rio, Ferrer said: “First I have to be there. To play the Olympic Games I have to be one of the top four Spanish players. Now I am No2 (behind Rafael Nadal) but it depends – I think the cut-off is in Roland Garros – so for me the goal is to play the Olympic Games. Of course singles is my first option. It’s difficult to play doubles because this year I’ll be focused only on singles.”

Set to make his fifth appearance in Abu Dhabi, Ferrer comes to the UAE capital for the first time as a married man having tied the knot last month to long-time girlfriend Marta Tornel.

The Javea native says he has no plans whatsoever to retire from the game any time soon – “now I am No7 in the world so when you’re playing with the best tennis in the world or I am top-10 I don’t want to retire. I enjoy playing tennis and I’m enjoying both my professional and personal lives so I am not thinking about retirement,” he explains, and says he’s feeling more motivated than ever especially after being sidelined for two and a half months with an injury last season.

A rare situation for Ferrer, an elbow injury forced him out of Wimbledon in 2015 and he didn’t play a match between for nine weeks between Nottingham and the US Open.

“It was difficult because it was my first time to be injured for two and a half months. It was difficult because I couldn’t play tennis, I couldn’t play good tournaments, but I worked hard with my physio and my fitness and I came back playing good, better for the end of the season. So I learned one thing about injuries and now I’m more passionate about the game,” says the Valenica resident.

Ferrer will be joined by his fellow Spaniard Nadal in Abu Dhabi this weekend. Following a sub-par season for Nadal in 2015, where he experienced a dip in form and lack of confidence, which led to uncharacteristic defeats, Ferrer is certain his compatriot will be back to his best in 2016.

“Rafael maybe last year it wasn’t his best one but he finished No5 in the world and the last two months he played good tennis. I think Rafael this year he’s going to be fighting to be No1 and will win more grand slams, I have confidence in that,” assured Ferrer.

Ferrer, a two-time Abu Dhabi runner-up, will open his MWTC campaign on Thursday against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga with the winner moving on to face Nadal on Friday. 

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Down the line: Tennis' big changes in 2016

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Early charge: Rafael Nadal will be among the big attractions in Abu Dhabi.

The new tennis season is less than a week away and while many are still catching their breath from a whirlwind 2015, the players are expected to be ready to start all over again come Sunday.

Some stars will even be in action before next week as Stan Wawrinka and Rafael Nadal lead a six-player field in Abu Dhabi this weekend at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship, while Agnieszka Radwanska and Venus Williams headline a four-player exhibition in Hua Hin, Thailand from December 31 to January 1.

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Before the players hit their first ball of 2016, here’s a look at the biggest news and talking points from the offseason…

Federer’s big revelations

Roger Federer will be sans Stefan Edberg in 2016 as the Swiss world No3 announced earlier this month he was parting ways with his coach of two years and that he added Ivan Ljubicic to his team as a replacement, with Severin Luthi still acting as his main coach. 

Federer also revealed he will be playing mixed doubles with Martina Hingis at the Rio Olympics before he unveiled his tentative schedule for 2016 which surprisingly – or maybe not – included just one clay event, Roland Garros, with no warm-ups for the grand slam on the red dirt.

With no tournaments scheduled between Indian Wells and the French Open, Federer could end up going without a competitive match for a full two months.

Odds are he will add one clay event if he’s feeling good and tournaments had better keep those wild cards free and available for the Swiss Maestro. 

Coaching carousel

Milos Raonic, who lost his coach Ljubicic to Federer, said he won’t hire anyone right away and will be working full-time with Ricardo 
Piatti, who had been a consultant for the Canadian. 

Grigor Dimitrov has enlisted the help of Franco Davin, Juan Martin del Potro’s ex-coach, while Andy Murray will continue working with Amelie Mauresmo but is more than likely done with Jonas Bjorkman. 

Thanasi Kokkinakis ended his 12-year partnership with Todd Langman and hired Ben Mathias.

Borna Coric is no longer with Thomas Johansson and has brought in Miles MacLagan, a former coach of Murray. 

Eugenie Bouchard trained for 2016 with Maria Sharapova’s ex-coach Thomas Hogstedt at the IMG Academy in Florida.

World No19 Elina Svitolina spent some time working with Justine Henin in the offseason but is unsure what their partnership will look like moving forward. 

Madison Keys parted ways with Lindsay Davenport and has teamed up with ex-world No69 Jesse Levine, while Britain’s Heather Watson is no longer with Diego Veronelli.

Early withdrawals

Richard Gasquet apparently aggravated a back problem playing the first two legs of the IPTL and is out of the season’s opening-week event in Doha. 

Kokkinakis announced he’s missing the entire Australian summer with a shoulder injury while Lucie Safarova has pulled out of the Hopman Cup in Perth saying her “health complications continue”, and has been replaced by Karolina Pliskova. Safarova was hospitalised after the US Open with a bacterial infection.

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Elina Svitolina might add Justine Henin to her team in 2016

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Working hard: Svitolina in Abu Dhabi

World No19 Elina Svitolina confirmed she has been working with Belgian legend Justine Henin during her preseason training block in Abu Dhabi this month but is still unsure about their partnership moving forward.

Svitolina, 21, is back practicing at Zayed Sports City for the third straight offseason as she plots her assault on 2016.

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The Ukrainian, who made her first major quarter-final at Roland Garros last June, has also been working with her British coach Iain Hughes in Abu Dhabi. She had spent some time practicing at Henin’s academy in the past.

“She (Henin) has been here with me, we’ve been practicing a little bit but we’ll see about our partnership for 2016. A bit later we’ll know about it,” Svitolina told Sport360 at the Hilton Capital Grand Hotel in Abu Dhabi on Friday.

“Yes (it’s like a trial). Iain is here, we’ll be travelling everywhere together. It’s great. I have a big team. Of course sometimes I need to change like sparring partners and fitness coaches. But everyone has their own job and we’re doing a good job I think and we’re looking forward to 2016.”

On what she feels Henin could bring to the table, she added: “It’s good to have something fresh but still I’ve been working a lot with my coach (Iain) and he’s brought a lot to my game. So we will see how it will go with Justine. Of course it’s going to be an amazing opportunity because she’s such a great champion. I have a good team and I think some little bits will help me improve more.”

Svitolina will kick off her 2016 season partnering her compatriot Alexandr Dolgopolov at the Hopman Cup in Perth starting January 3.

*Stay tuned for our full interview with Elina Svitolina in Saturday’s Sport360*​

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