He fell flat on his back out of sheer happiness, started to cry with joy, which he did all the way to sitting back in his chair after climbing in the stands for a very emotional hug with his team.
Juan Mónaco had not only just logged his best career title at the ATP500 of Hamburg: this triumph also sealed the realisation of a dream he’s been cherishing for a long time: as of Monday, he will be a top 10 player, there joining his countryman (and fellow Tandil native) Juan Martín del Potro.
The hard road to consistency…
It all started at about the same time last year, although I can tell for sure that it’s been in the works since the beginning. The serve was beginning to be more reliable, as was the forehand. Almost completely gone were the missed overheads that were a topic of mockery for many fans, so often were we seeing them.
Juan Mónaco’s journey to consistency had begun.
For consistency was really the weakest link in Mónaco’s game, as could be his nerves in some key moments which cost him a few matches and a couple of titles.
However, if there is one thing to be said about the Argentine, it’s that he’s one of the hardest-working players of the ATP. Last year, surrounded by his friend Mariano Zabaleta and Spaniard José Manuel “Pepo” Clavet, they started working on improving some of the weakest technical aspects of his game, namely his serve and forehand, which started showing during the hard court fall swing, leading him to the final in Valencia (l. to Marcel Granollers).
During the pre-season, Pico started working with a new coach, Gustavo Marcaccio, as well as continuing to work with the rest of his usual team of physios, etc., in order to help him continue improving and with the goal of coming back to the top 15, which he did when he defeated then World no 10 John Isner to win the Houston tournament, his second title of the year.
Winning his first title in four and a half years in Viña del Mar (d. Carlos Berlocq), Mónaco cut a streak of 7 defeats in finals, a win which gave him a huge boost of confidence, which carried him into making his second career Masters 1000 semi-finals in Miami, defeating former no 1 Andy Roddick and then World no 8 Mardy Fish on the way to losing to eventual champion Novak Djokovic.
We know the rest of the story: the ankle injury suffered during his first-round match in Monte Carlo, his return two weeks earlier than planned, in Rome, when he nearly defeated defending champion Novak Djokovic in the third round, his best Roland Garros since 2007, his third final of the season in Stuttgart (l. to Janko Tipsarevic).
… all the way to the top 10
What strikes the most in Juan Mónaco’s season is not only that he is living the best moments of his career, but also this new-found consistency, this brimming confidence in his game and capacities, and the belief that he could go all the way to the realisation of his dream of being a top 10 player, which he did today, when he captured his third title of the season, defeating resurgent veteran Tommy Haas, 7-5 6-4, in the final of the ATP500 tournament of Hamburg.
With a combination of very hard work, professionalism, and belief, he was finally able to put a check next to his dream and goal of finally entering the top 10.
All at his own time
To illustrate the hard road to the top 10, and all that it took him to finally get there (well, in this case, it was on the brink of it), I think that there are no better words than those my friend (and colleague) Diego Amuy (BATennis) wrote following Monaco’s semi-final win. (Translated by yours truly.)
At Pico’s Time
28 years of work, of being professional with the press, polite, and appropriate.
28 years in believing in oneself, of lowering the head when things didn’t work out, but raising it back immediately to go train.
Always with respect, with grace, always with a smile and without believing himself superior to anyone.
28 years of constant effort and of an impeccable career in an era of galactic tennis.
28 years, a few months, and at one match of, maybe, being part of the 10 best tennis players in the world. [NDLR: Which he did today.]
With effort, dedication, humility, doing things well and surrounding himself with skilled people…
Dreams can come true.
Shout, Sir! Let out the emotions you kept inside, it’s all yours, Juan Mónaco…
Your moment, place, and it’s all more than deserved…
Welcome to the “Pico time”.
He did it all at his own time and reaped the rewards of his hard work for sure!
And yet still underestimated
However, what strikes me the most, personally, is how Mónaco remains underestimated among a lot of fans and analysts of the game. I made that observation as well during the French Open, when he was seen as the underdog coming into his match against lower-ranked Milos Raonic, and the observation remains again today, if possible, truer than ever.
How so? By seeing how scorned his accomplishments are by many.
As I’ve mentioned then, as well as at the beginning of this post, what Juan Mónaco accomplished today is not a coincidence, nor is it the sign of a weakness in the top 5-20.
Since the beginning of his career, he has shown the potential of being at least a strong top 15, with a possibility of breaking into the top 10. Then came the injuries, and the inconsistency.
However, if there is one thing to be said about him, and only one, it’s that he never gave up and just kept on working harder and harder, until he started to really peak, and to find his range.
He and his team added many aggressive touches to his usually defensive game, improved his serve and forehand, became more patient, biding his time during each rally and, if possible, learned to fight even more than before. Maturity also came into play (after all, he’s 28 years old).
Indeed, he doesn’t have such a good record against the top 4 players, particularly the top 3. However, this can be said for most of the players on the Tour, be they top 10, top 15, top 20, etc.
This fact doesn’t make Pico less deserving, or more of an incongruity in the top 10. For sure, the computer rankings are there, but it’s the same for every player. By the year-to-date, Mónaco is now the 10th best player in the ATP for 2012, with three titles and two top 10 wins.
Looking at these numbers, I think it makes even more sense in order to understand how he can possibly join the elite group of the top 10 players. Looking at his game on top of it makes even less doubt.
The first part of the job is done for Mónaco: reaching the top 10. Now comes another tough one: maintaining himself in it. I’m pretty confident he can make it, especially if he continues improving the way he’s been doing for a year.
For now, we can only congratulate Pico for what he accomplished today, for realising his dream, and congratulate him and his team for the great work they are doing day after day to ensure that he can be, and remain, among the elite of the sport.