David Ferrer has just enjoyed what was probably the best season of his career, yet it was still not enough to become the top Spanish player: Rafael Nadal, despite an absence of five months, still won a seventh Roland Garros title and finished the season in fourth place in the world rankings.
In any case Ferrer has, without doubt, the most legitimate claim to being the best player outside of the Big Four. He has had a very consistent season: he won seven titles - a record for him in one season - including a Masters 1000 title in Paris. And in terms of his level of play, he has played the best tennis of his career.
The question is: can he regularly beat the best players in the world? That is not yet the case. In tournaments, he rarely loses against players who are ranked lower than he is, including those who are closest to him in the rankings, such as Berdych, Del Potro and Tsonga. But he seems to have some kind of complex when he faces the Big Four players - he had nine defeats in 10 matches in 2012.
Yet, he has within himself the capacity to do better. Firstly, on a mental level, I think he just needs to click. Every year, he is never very far off. In 2012, he nearly embarrassed Nadal on clay, most notably in the Barcelona final. But he could not win the points that would have turned the match in his favour.
You get the impression that he has a little too much respect for these players. Perhaps this season he might have come to realise this and 2013 will be his season. I don't see him winning a Grand Slam title, but maybe he can push himself into a final. If he can just click...