There are some players who, despite their ranking, are often overlooked (sometimes even by major tournament organizers). They may not be the most flamboyant, or the most talented, but they are among the elite at what they are doing and they deserve the credit they are due.
Of that, David Ferrer is often the most cited of the underestimated players. At 30, Ferrer is right now ranked no 6 in the world, has been no 5 for six consecutive months before Jo-Wilfried Tsonga took over. Furthermore, after being through with various injuries, Ferrer has been again a steady member of the top 10 since November 2010.
Without a doubt one of the hardest-working players on Tour, the Spaniard worked hard last season to correct one of the flaws in his game, his serve, to great effect. Now with a better serve, he is more able to get out of tricky situation in matches. Of course, the strength of his game resides in his incredible fitness level and athleticism and he’s not a flamboyant player, but he can, and does it more often, play very aggressive tennis with a lot of success if he needs to.
His losing record against the top 4 likely doesn’t help his case, but to me, David Ferrer is a good fitness indicator for many players. Rarely do we see him on an off day, and he is a model of consistency.
The Argentine Ferrer
Where am I going with Ferrer? Straight to the player whom I thought would be another one like him, and who is more and more proving to become, at 28, exactly that: Argentine Juan Mónaco.
Just like Ferrer, Mónaco isn’t the most flamboyant player on court, but his relentless fighting and energy kept him among the elite of the game for the last five years, where he’s been in the top 50 for most of the time, except a spell at the beginning of 2009, when he was still fighting injuries and inconsistency. Since July of 2009, he hasn’t left the top 50, and since last year, he has shown steady progress in his game, and in his mentality, which permitted him to win his first title in four and a half years in February, in Viña del Mar.
After winning Houston, where he defeated John Isner in the finals, Mónaco went to Monte Carlo, where he suffered a horrible ankle injury after falling in a hole in the surface. He was then living the best moments of his career, with two titles and getting back to his best career ranking of no 14.
Coming back from this injury two weeks earlier than planned, in Rome, the Tandil native showed that he was very intent to start back where he left off, to the point where he even came set and break up against the World no 1, Novak Djokovic, only to end up losing in three sets.
Relying on a very complete all-court game, improved serve and forehand, and a renewed confidence, the Argentine has all the tools to shine, especially now that he also plays much better on hard courts and added many aggressive touches to his usually defensive play. Still, like Ferrer, his strength lies in his defence, of course, but we see him moving forward more and more, try to shorten the points, varying the angles, going for his shots. Not necessarily flamboyant, but effective.
When the favourite is the underdog
All these aspects, to many, remain unknown, despite some very impressive matches he’s played (and often won) since last fall. To the point where, today, he was not viewed as the favourite he was, but as the underdog, as he was facing World no 22 Milos Raonic.
Of course, Raonic is a brilliant promise, with top 10 potential and a serve that can do enormous damages, as well as excellent volleying skills. No one thought that it would be an easy match. However, it remains funny that the best-ranked player, the born clay-courter, with the most experience on the court, ended up in the eyes of many as being the underdog in a match played on his best surface.
The match was, by no means, an easy affair for either player. It was a battle, if not necessarily interesting in the game itself, an extremely intense one, where we could see the strengths of both very well exposed, be they the return games of Mónaco or the serve of Raonic.
Indeed, the Canadian did not have his best day at the service line (54% of first serves for the whole match), but he was often able to serve the bomb whenever he was in trouble, or making sure to dispose of the return with a volley. Still, he tried to go for his shots, more often than not ending up with errors (he finished the match with 88 unforced errors, for 73 winners, 26 of them being aces).
Mónaco, on the other hand, served very well (79% of first serves). In fact, he hasn’t been broken in the last eight sets he played, conceding only eight break points, all of them to Raonic. Trying to limit his errors to the minimum (he ended up the match with 39 unforced errors, for 33 winners including five aces), he patiently built the match and bided his time until the errors came from his opponent’s racquet.
In the end, the strategy proved effective, although long and tedious, and Mónaco emerged as the winner after 4h33, 6-7(5) 6-3 6-7(5) 6-3 6-4, earning himself to play against Rafael Nadal, who’s been rolling through his draw with monstrous efficiency since the beginning of the tournament.
Can he win? Yes. Will he win? I don’t think so. Nadal is back to being the confident clay monster he’s been for most years, and this Nadal is untouchable. However, let’s not discard Mónaco’s fighting spirit. As we can be assured that there will be a fight, no matter the result.