NEW YORK — There was something bittersweet about David Ferrer's last Grand Slam match. Yes, he got to depart by sharing the court with his friend and Spanish Davis Cup teammate Rafael Nadal, under the lights on the big stage of Arthur Ashe Stadium at the U.S. Open.
He also was forced to quit for the first time in 208 contests at major tournaments, an ironic adieu for a guy known as one of the most indefatigable players in tennis.
Nadal was ahead 6-3, 3-4 after less than 1½ hours of the first-round match when Ferrer stopped because of an injured left calf that began bothering him in the first set and kept getting worse in the second.
"I'm sad because it's my last Grand Slam. I was enjoying playing the match against Rafa. I was playing good. But anyway, I am proud with myself, with my career," said Ferrer, whose best showing at a major was his runner-up finish at the 2013 French Open.
The man who beat him in that title match? Nadal.
"I am 36 years old," Ferrer said. "It's time to be home."
He's not quite done with his sport, though. Ferrer, who was ranked as high as No. 3 but is currently 148th, made clear he plans to play a selective schedule of tournaments in 2019.
Still, this felt like a farewell, both to him and to Nadal.
"He deserved a better finish," Nadal said. "I am sad for him."
They are just the fifth pair of men to play in the first round at a Slam after having met in a major final. In all, this was their 31st tour-level meeting; Nadal won 25.
The only men with more victories over Nadal than Ferrer's six? Novak Djokovic with 27, Roger Federer with 15 and Andy Murray with seven.
"We played in very important finals for both of us. We played important matches for both of us. Yeah, we shared a lot of very important moments in our lives together," Nadal said. "He will be one of these guys that the tour will miss, because he is one of the players that is a good guy. The tour loves him."
Ferrer was asked whether he regretted playing at a time when the Big Four of Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray dominated the sport.
He said that's not the way he thinks about it, and that it was "a pleasure to play with them, with maybe the best generation," because they motivated him to strive to improve.
After Monday night's match, Federer saluted Ferrer with a tweet that conveyed "ultimate respect."
Others offered other words of praise, including 2009 U.S. Open champion Juan Martin del Potro, who said after winning his first-round match Monday that Ferrer "was the kind of player no one wanted to face."