DOHA (AFP) - David Ferrer, so often the forgotten man of the world's top 10, made a heartening start to the new season by winning the Qatar Open title on Saturday, defeating Tomas Berdych, 6-4, 7-5.
The 32-year-old fourth seed saved three set points in the second set against Berdych, the third-seeded former Wimbledon finalist, whose big weapons sometimes threatened to sweep all before him.
But Ferrer, diligent, fast and better focused, made the best of his talents - despite having to work hard to survive from within two points of defeat against Ivo Karlovic the previous day - and proved that he can still be a high level contender with the 22nd title of his career.
"It's never easy to begin the season winning a tournament," said Ferrer.
"For me, every ATP tournament is important and for me this is not just preparation for the Australian Open.
"So I was very pleased with my performance but I did get a bit lucky on those big moments when I got to 5-5. I tried to play them with confidence but it was an important game and maybe Tomas lost concentration a little bit on those three set points."
Berdych added: "We are talking about a guy who is established in top 10 for many years. You need to have something special, you know, to hold the top 10 position for such a long time.
"Anyway, I was able to make my chances, but was unlucky in the end - I was not able to execute them right way."
Berdych's failure to convert his break points in the 10th game of the second set was crucial.
His strident ground strokes, particularly when he hit straight, threatened to take charge of the match. But his best chances were harmed by his own doubtful shot selection.
One came on his third set point, when he pinned Ferrer back with a great drive, and then tried to make a drop shot over the highest part of the net. With the court open the ball fell dramatically back.
Berdych's previous two set points ebbed away after he hit one backhand drive long and another into the net, both from reasonable positions.
All this followed a surprising start by the flat-hitting Czech. He had been in unstoppable form en route to the final, holding all his 34 service games - only to drop his first service game when confronted by Ferrer in the final.
Not till the sixth game, by which time Berdych was two breaks and 1-4 down, did he begin to hit the ball with characteristic force.
When he did he almost repaired all the damage, but allowed two successive break back points for 5-5 slip away.
"It was a disappointment, but on the other hand it has been a solid week," claimed Berdych, who had assembled a new support team and missed a great chance to build some new momentum with them.
Instead, Ferrer was allowed opportunities to show how well - despite his lack of height and serving power - he uses his mental strength to make the best of his abilities.
Ferrer's superb attitude is said to be partly the result of an oft-recalled incident in which his former coach taught him how fortunate he was by locking him in a cupboard.
True or not, he often escaped this time before the cupboard door was shut, running down every lost cause, counter-hitting unexpectedly, and making the best of almost every brief opportunity.
The end came when Berdych went 15-40 down with his 21st unforced error, a forehand drive which slewed wide, and then saved one match point brilliantly, only to deliver a double fault.
It summed up his chequered performance Ferrer's success may not have convinced many people that he is actually a Grand Slam contender but his reputation was bolstered in Qatar by succeeding in a draw which had featured Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal as top attractions.