Ferrer quietly goes about joining game's elite
David Ferrer has long sat outside the all dominating 'Big Four' of men's tennis but after a standout 2012 season and signs of weakness amongst the quartet the consistent Spaniard might finally crack the powerful cabal.
For the best part of eight years the men's game has been ruled by Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal with Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray emerging from the Swiss and Spaniard's shadow in the last two.
Sitting just outside has been the consistent Spaniard whose relative anonymity allowed him to slip into New Zealandwith little fanfare this week, even though the world No 5 was the major drawcard at the Auckland Open as the two-time defending champion and seeking a record-equalling fourth title.
Since re-entering the top-10 in October 2010, the lowest Ferrer has been ranked is eighth and he has won nine of his 18 career titles.
Seven of those titles came in 2012 when he enjoyed his best season on the ATP tour and he arguably cracked a psychological barrier when he won the Paris Masters - a tournament that sits just below the grand slams in terms of importance.
While critics have argued the 30-year-old has maintained his ranking points by playing tournaments off the beaten track, away from events that attract too many players of his calibre, last year's performances, however, may have ended those suggestions.
Apart from his seven titles he also reached one other final and made at least the quarterfinals at all four grand slam tournaments, the first time he achieved the feat since he turned professional in 2000.
In each of the grand slams he lost to Djokovic twice, eventual champion Nadal at Roland Garros and Wimbledon finalist Murray on the grass in London.
While there is a gap between the 'Big Four' and the rest of the men's tour, that has narrowed considerably over the past two years with Federer no longer invincible and Nadal's knees proving to be a lingering problem that will undoubtedly effect his court speed and agility when he does return to the game.
Djokovic and Murray are also prone to patches of erratic play, and Ferrer, as one of the fittest and most consistent baseline players on tour should use the confidence from 2012 to again go deep into the January 14-27 Australian Open.
A good run at Melbourne Park should also see his ranking rise to fourth, as compatriot Nadal has already withdrawn from the season-opening grand slam after a stomach virus hampered his recovery from his persistent knee injury.
Ferrer, however, seemed nonplussed about the rankings.
"I don't care, because Rafa has been injured for a long time and I was at No 4 in 2008," Ferrer told Fairfax Media before his first appearance at the Auckland Open.
"So I don't have special motivation to be at No 4, I have motivation to improve my game and to be in the top-10 all year."
While Ferrer was not concerned with the rankings, he did acknowledge entering the Auckland Open record books was a major motivator as he fine tuned his game ahead of Melbourne Park.
If he wins in Auckland he will join Australia's Roy Emerson as the only four-time winners of the title. Emerson won in 1960 and then again from 1965-67.
He could also become the second player, after Emerson, to win the title in three successive years.
"Of course, if I win here, it is going to be a dream for me," said Ferrer.
"I am very happy to come back to Auckland again and it's nice to see the same people here as other years."