The Asian swing started in force, this week, despite the absence of the top 4. With the Race for one of the remaining spots of the ATP World Tour Finals (WTF) still going on strongly, most players still in contention took the occasion to grab precious points in their quest to qualify for the Final Showdown.
Missed opportunities for Ferrer and Tipsarevic
David Ferrer had a chance to nearly confirm his qualification for the WTF in Kuala Lumpur, he who is almost assured of being in the final eight for the second consecutive year and third time in his career. Seeded first, he had a good tournament, but a rare bad day (maybe his third very bad day this season), combined to an inspired opponent, kept him away from a seventh final this season.
However, he will have another chance next week, as he is taking part in the China Open, in Beijing. Seeded second, he will face Yen-Hsun Lu in the first round.
Nevertheless, David Ferrer is playing the best season of his career, having signed his 61st and 62nd wins in Kuala Lumpur, an ATP top to this day, thus besting his mark of 2007, where he finished the season with 61 wins. At this rate, it is very plausible to think that Ferrer, aged 30, can end the season with 70 wins. His five titles to date is also a career high, which places him second to this date, behind World n° 1 Roger Federer.
Janko Tipsarevic is another of the players who had a chance to consolidate his place in the Race. Ranked ninth before the start of the week, he increased his lead over Nicolás Almagro and reduced the gap separating him from Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in eight place to 90 points (a rank he could have taken had he won the tournament) when he lost to Gilles Simon in the semi-finals of the Thailand Open, in Bangkok. Both Tipsarevic and Tsonga are in action this week, the Serbian in Tokyo and the Frenchman, in Beijing.
However, Tipsarevic will once again be facing his bête noire, Gilles Simon, in the first round of the Rakuten Open.
A first on hard court for Mónaco
With four finals and three titles before the start of this week, Juan Mónaco is, without a doubt, having the best season of his career, and he showed why in Kuala Lumpur.
With a chance to turn things around after a heartbreaking defeat to Guillermo García-López in the first round of the U.S. Open, and another defeat just as difficult (if not more), in the second rubber of the Davis Cup semi-finals against Tomas Berdych, Mónaco demonstrated just how much he has grown in game and maturity over the last two years, in more ways than one.
Seeded second, he defeated Jimmy Wang in the second round after having had a first-round bye before taking down Vasek Pospisil (who was playing his first ATP quarter-finals), 6-3 6-4, before facing Kei Nishikori in a topsy-turvy semi-final match.
As the Argentine said after the match, “[A] couple of years ago, my mind was gone when this happened.” “This” being his opponent calling for the trainer and taking a medical time out during the match, which Nishikori did during the first set for a foot problem, and he saw the trainer again between the first and the second sets.
Nevertheless, Pico did lose his focus, and the second set, and an obvious delay of the game by his opponent at a changeover did the same in the third. However, this time, Mónaco hung on and fought to save one match point and get the break back as Nishikori served for the match, and took a well-deserved win, 6-2 2-6 7-6(4) to reach his fifth final of the season, his second on hard court after Valencia last year (l. to Marcel Granollers).
In the final, the Tandil native was not facing David Ferrer, as we thought would happen, but his conqueror, Julien Benneteau, who was looking for his first career title.
The Frenchman started strongly, breaking in the first game of the match and saving three break points to take a 2-0 lead. It was, however, short lived, as Mónaco broke back at his next opportunity. Broken as he attempted to serve out the set at 5-3 after having had three set points, Mónaco never gave up and ended up breaking to take the set, 7-5, after an interminable and tight 20-minute game.
The second set started almost exactly as the first, Benneteau breaking first. There stopped the similarities, as he was broken back right away, but broke again and, this time, he did not waste his chances, taking the set 6-4 to force a decisive third.
It was obvious from the start of the match that if it were to be a long one, the fittest player, in this instance Mónaco, would have the most chances to take the honours. After all, Benneteau had seen the trainer just after the warm-up to have his right elbow (the one he broke in a fall in Monte Carlo earlier this season) taped, and once again after the first set, before seeing the trainer for what might have been cramps between the second and the third.
The obvious was, in the end, what happened. Benneteau became a bit more erratic, whereas Mónaco continued to show high levels of energy, firing many winners, particularly of the forehand side, and was rewarded by a break in the sixth game of the set. If the Frenchman saved one championship point on his own serve, it only delayed the inevitable, as Juan Mónaco took his third match point, on his own serve, to take the match, and the tournament, 7-5 4-6 6-3, in 3:01.
This career best fourth title of the season, his first on hard (seventh overall), puts Mónaco third in the ATP for the number of titles, along with Rafael Nadal, behind Roger Federer (six) and David Ferrer (five). He also becomes the sixth Argentine to win four ATP titles in the same season, joining Guillermo Vilas, José Luis Clerc, Guillermo Coria, Gastón Gaudio, and Juan Martín del Potro (the last one to do so, back in 2008).
Furthermore, Mónaco will be back in the top 10 in next week’s rankings (which he ensured by reaching the semi-finals), dislodging John Isner, who had taken back the n° 10 spot on the 13th of August. A return to the top 10 highly celebrated by the Argentine and his team after the match:
By winning the title in Kuala Lumpur, Juan Mónaco also dislodges John Isner, this time from the 11th place in the Race to the WTF, a year-to-date ranking he will still share with Richard Gasquet.
First title in two years for Gasquet
For Richard Gasquet remains nez à nez with Mónaco in the Race. In Bangkok, the Frenchman had twice to come back from a set and breaks down, first in the second round against Grigor Dimitrov, whom he ended up defeating 5-7 7-5 6-4, and again in the semi-finals, when Jarkko Nieminen, who had caused the surprise of the tournament when he took out n° 3 seed Milos Raonic, collapsed after being up a set and a double break. In the end, Gasquet prevailed, 3-6 7-5 6-2, to reach his third final of the season.
In the finals, Gasquet was facing countryman Gilles Simon. Simon had defeated Janko Tipsarevic, 6-4 6-4, in the semi-finals and if he is the Serbian’s bête noire, the same can be said about Richard Gasquet towards him, as the native of Béziers had never lost a match in their five previous meetings, and had dropped only one set.
It was no different this Sunday, as Gasquet dominated every aspect of the game, as well as his opponent’s head, to clinch a quite easy 6-2 6-1 win in 1:08.
This seventh career title is Gasquet’s first in two years, as he was last crowned in Nice, on clay, back in 2010.
If this wins brings him in the 11th place of the Race, it will not change his ATP ranking, as he will remain at n° 14, although only about 85 points from Marin Cilic and the n° 13 spot. Both will be in action this week, in Beijing, where the Croatian has a final to defend, and Gasquet no points to defend at all. They could face in the quarter-finals.
Djokovic and Murray back in action
In the coming week, World n° 2 Novak Djokovic and U.S. Open champion Andy Murray are back in action, the former in Beijing, and the latter to defend his title in Tokyo.
World n° 6 Tomas Berdych also starts his Asian swing this week. However, the Czech will not be in Beijing to defend his crown, but will play in Tokyo, where he will face Benoit Paire in the first round. As for Murray and Djokovic, they will respectively face Gaël Monfils and Michael Berrer.
Of the three, we can safely say that the Scotsman is the one who will have the hardest task.