They were not favourites to get this far. To be honest, facing Juan Martín del Potro and David Ferrer, it was quite impossible to see them in any other way than underdogs, even though both have played an incredible tournament in spite of a very unfavourable draw. Yet the Valencia Open title will be fought for by Marcel Granollers and Juan Mónaco.
Granollers played an unbelievable match, with the same brilliance as he did when he defeated Gaël Monfils in the quarterfinals, in order to defeat a del Potro at times completely snuffed out. Obviously not felleing well (shoulder), the Argentine showed his usual class in refusing to blame his injury to explain his loss, giving all the credit to his opponent’s extraordinary level of play for his 6-4 7-6(4) win. I will thus do the same, which isn’t hard because Granollers was nothing if not really impressive, particularly at the net.
As a matter of fact, he played a rather simple startegy: going forward as much and as often as possible. With his wonderful touch, against such a strong player as Delpo from the back of the court, it proved very payful, more so as most of the Argentine’s attempts at the net ended in a winning passing shot from the Spaniard, who really didn’t steal this second consecutive Valencia Open final appearance. After all, Granollers had to defeat Alexandr Dolgopolov, Marin Cilic and Gaël Monfils just to meet with del Potro in the semis, and he did so with great resilience.
His rival in tomorrow’s final showed just as much resilience and will to win, with a draw that made him face Nicolás Almagro, Fabio Fognini (to whom he never lost), Juan Carlos Ferrero and, today, David Ferrer. It is then safe to say that Juan Mónaco’s run has not been the easiest in order to reach his first final since Santiago, in February of 2010, and the most important of his career so far.
If he was phenomenal against Ferrero yesterday, Mónaco was a little less so today against the ever moving David Ferrer, but it’s really his strength of mind that prevailed. Down a break in the first set, he could have given up (he never does), but he hung on and keeping his serve with great difficulty down 0-3 was really what put him back in the right track. A little later, he was able to get the break back, although he got broken right after, but he won the next four games to get away with the initial set 7-5. The defending champion was not, however, ready to surrender, as he upped his level of play to take the second set 6-1.
But everything changed in the third. After an early break and a medical time out due to a glute issue (yes, another one with that problem!), Pico hung on and it payed off. A series of bad calls from the line judges, a foot fault and a double fault from Ferrer gave him the break back and the Spaniard was never the same from then onwards, with many a double fault (including three in the same game!), and Mónaco was soon in the driver’s seat. He remained focused and ended up prevailing 7-5 1-6 6-3. With this win, Mónaco had defeated the two bosses, ironically those who were partly responsible for his presence at the tournament, has he was there with a wild card. Well, that’s how you make a wild card profitable: by reaching the final.
Head to head-wise, it’s Granollers who won the last encounter between the two, in the quarterfinals of the same tournament, last year, in a three-set battle. I’m not hiding it, I wish for a different outcome tomorrow and for Pico to win, he who hasn’t won a title since the three he won in 2007, before the injuries came to alter his promising start.
However, we have two very deserving finalists in Valencia tomorrow, even though they weren’t favourites to reach that stage when the tournament started, and I wouldn’t miss this final for the world.
I want to conclude by congratulating Kei Nishikori, who achieved something that few Asians have before when he defeated today world no 1 Novak Djokovic 2-6 7-6(4) 6-0. Yes, Djokovic had a shoulder injury and might miss the Paris Masters 1000, but Nishikori played a solid match and deserves his Basel Open final spot, where he’ll meet Roger Federer tomorrow. Well done, Kei, and good luck in the finals!