Three ATP tournaments were played this week, before the ATP action stops to make way for the first round of Davis Cup and in the three tournaments, two featured a first-time finalist. Sadly, both lost but it was to the revival of veterans (kudos to Mikhail Youzhny, who won both the singles and doubles – this one alongside Marcos Baghdatis – in Zagreb!), both in very good finals, including an amazing three-setter in the Chilean city of Viña del Mar, first stop of the Golden Swing.
Considering it is the part of the year that I prefer, please do not surprise yourselves if I talk more about this portion of the calendar, as it is really the one I follow the closest. And today, Viña del Mar brought me, as a fan, something I was despairing to see again, at long last: Juan Mónaco raising a trophy as champion.
The end of a long wait for Juan Mónaco
If you’ve been reading this blog since the beginning, or my French blog before that, you know how much I like Juan Mónaco. In fact, he is, along with Juan Martín del Potro, my favourite ATP player. A fan has its preferences and I’ve been following Pico’s career ever since 2006, when I was sure he would be an Argentinian version of David Ferrer.
Sadly, injuries went in the way of a very promising development. However, since last year, Mónaco made a series of adjustments in his game in order to bring him back to the level that made him reach his career-high ranking of no 14, back in 2008. The most notable of these adjustments was brought in his serve, which used to be a very lethargic aspect of his game but which can now get him out of trouble very nicely.
Furthermore, Pico, along with his team, made some adjustments in his forehand and at the net, which can now help him better in shortening the rallies and put more pressure on his opponents. Of course, nothing is perfect but this week, in Viña del Mar, we were able to see the difference from the last few years, even more so than in Valencia, for instance (his last final, which was his first in over a year).
Four months later, this time as top seed of a tournament, he made a triumphant return to the clay courts of Chile, where he has known so much success in past even years (finals in 2008 and 2010, the latter while the tournament was played in Santiago). He first cruised passed Igor Andreev in the second round (he had a Bye in the first), then lost a set to Spain’s Albert Montañés but recovered and adjusted his game to defeat him in easily the last two (he who had never even took a set from Montañés until this match) in the quarter-finals, and finally won comfortably against Jérémy Chardy in the semi-finals.
Then came this incredible final we were treated to tonight.
An emotional final, worthy fighters
It was the first time since Buenos Aires, in 2008, that there was an all-Argentine final in an ATP tournament (David Nalbandian then defeated José Acasuso 3-6, 7-6(5), 6-4). This time, Juan Mónaco was facing the most agreeable surprise of the tournament, Chascomus native Carlos Berlocq, who was playing his first ATP level final two days after turning 29 years old.
And to what a final were we treated!
For 2:46, but especially for two sets and five games, both men fought an incredible fight, alternating wonderful aggressive play and amazing defence in order to put their hands on the winner’s trophy.
After a tight first set won by Mónaco with an early break, then a break up in the second, we thought it was quite in the bag for the title for the Tandil native. It was counting without the great fighting spirit of Carlos Berlocq and Juan Mónaco’s rightful tightness. Up 4-3, serving to bring himself a game from the title, Mónaco was quickly broken and Berlocq continued playing amazing tennis to finally take the set 7-1 in the tiebreak.
Mónaco broke in the fourth game of the third and had the hardest time consolidating the break. This game, in which Mónaco had to save four break points in order to consolidate, was what finally broke the last resistance of Berlocq. Pico broke quickly after the changeover and successfully served out the match to be crowned champion of the VTR Open with a 6-3 6-7(1) 6-1 win.
A long time coming
It’s been a long time coming for Pico Mónaco, who won his fourth career title tonight in Viña del Mar after a title drought of four and a half years (his last title was in July 2007, in Kitzbühel). Since then, Mónaco had lost seven finals, the last one of which being in Valencia (to Marcel Granollers).
His reaction after winning was the reflection of the joy he felt at finally logging a title in, and it was very heart-warming to see him so happy with the win.
It was a tournament to which he participated to get some preparation on clay before heading to Germany, he ended up winning it. In which frame of mine is he leaving? The best, of course!
“I came to Viña looking for matches and form, and I ended up winning the tournament. I am taking with me a lot of confidence and a good feeling, having adapted correctly to clay once again. I am very happy with my team, because we prepared ourselves training very hard for this moment.“
Mónaco, with a lot of emotion, talked as well about his sensations during the match:
“The final match was a very hard fought battle. Berlocq played really well and it was a very intense match. After not being able to close out the second set, I tried to focus on the third and things went out well. I ended up playing at a great level.“
Off to Germany
Tomorrow, Mónaco will make his way to Bamberg, Germany, where he’ll meet the rest of the Argentine team to get ready for the first round of the Davis Cup, which starts Friday. Assuredly confident, but this means there will be no time to celebrate this long-awaited title just yet for Pico:
“I will fly to Germany on the first flight I get and as soon as possible. I am looking forward to being with the Davis Cup team and I will do anything I can to help Argentina to get to the next round. Right now there is no time to rest. I will fly this Monday to Bamberg to experience another Davis Cup tie.“
One thing is for sure, the confidence he surely will bring with him to Bamberg will likely give him wings in this very difficult tie that is coming for Argentina.
No solace for Charly
Carlos Berlocq, runner-up in singles, shortly after played the doubles finals, along with Spaniard Pablo Andújar. Hoping to turn the odds in his favour in this second final, there was sadly no solace for Charly, as he and Andújar lost to Frederico Gil and Daniel Gimeno Traver 6-1 5-7 10-12.
Nevertheless, it was an unbelievable week for Berlocq who, with this final, will enter the top 50 for the first time in his career. Hopefully this will be enough for the ATP to show his singles profile when we look for him, now?
Congratulations, Pico and Charly! It was a fantastic final!
Coming up this week: Davis Cup… and then Argentina
Over the next few days, I will preview the World Group Davis Cup ties and make my predictions. I will, of course, follow as much of the Davis Cup action as I can, as I will myself be fairly busy finishing my preparations in order to leave for Argentina next Sunday.
I am also thrilled to announce that Running Forehand will be covering the Copa Claro, which will be held from February 18 to 26. It is the first time that Running Forehand is covering a tournament on location and it will be a great pleasure and an even greater privilege to offer you the best possible coverage of the tournament. Needless to say that I am also incredibly excited to know I’ll have the occasion to work alongside my Argentine friends, at last!
(Quotes and photo of Pico and his team courtesy of JuanMonaco.com. Other photos by César Pincheira / VTR OPEN.)