ATP Houston: Juan Monaco Battles Into Final
Juan Monaco celebrates during his semifinal on Saturday. Photo: Aaron M. Sprecher/ROCC

Juan Monaco’s bounce-back season continues in Houston, as the former world number ten upset third seed Feliciano Lopez 6-4, 6-2 in a topsy-turvy semifinal battle at the US Men’s Clay Court Championship. The 2012 champion returned to the final riding his strong return game and consistent groundstrokes, which successfully broke down one of the tour’s strongest servers on Saturday.

Late Break Gives Monaco Early Lead

It was the Argentinian who got off to a perfect start, breaking Lopez in the second game and holding for a 3-0 lead. Though it took the Spaniard some time to get into the match, he began to apply some pressure on Monaco’s serve. He finally had his chances to get back on serve in the fifth game, when he had three break points on the Argentines serve. However, some strong play on the baseline from Monaco protected his lead and he held for 4-1.

Lopez stretches for a shot during his semifinal defeat. Photo: Aaron M. Sprecher/ROCC
Lopez hits a shot during his semifinal defeat. Photo: Aaron M. Sprecher/ROCC

Lopez was not discouraged, and in Monaco’s next service game, the Spaniard raced ahead 15-40 and converted his second opportunity in a wild rally at the net to reclaim the break. The next two games went with serve until Lopez found himself serving to stay in the set at 4-5. Monaco brought up a set point, which he converted when Lopez drilled a backhand into the net, surrendering the opener 6-4.

Monaco Holds On in Wild Second Set to Reach Final

It seemed that Lopez had put the disappointment of losing the opening set behind him almost immediately, as the Spaniard had a break point in the opening game of the set. But Monaco saved it and quickly turned the start of the set into a repeat of the previous set, as he broke for a 2-0 lead. This time around, Lopez bounced back immediately, reclaiming the break for 1-2.

Juan Monaco hits a backhand on Saturday, Photo: Aaron M. Sprecher/ROCC
Juan Monaco hits a backhand on Saturday, Photo: Aaron M. Sprecher/ROCC

The Spaniard’s comeback was short lived, as Monaco came out firing in Lopez’s very next service game and broke once again to reclaim his lead at 3-1. After three breaks in the first four games of the set, things stabilized and both players began holding serve with relative ease. At 2-5, Lopez found himself serving to say in the match. Monaco battled his way to match point at 30-40, which he was gifted when Lopez doubled faulted.

By the Numbers

Monaco punished Lopez for his low first serve in percent, 52 percent, by dominating the Spaniards second serve. Under immense pressure from Monaco, the Spaniard only managed to win 36 percent of his second serve points. The Argentinian was solid on break points, bringing up 11 opportunities on the Lopez serve, converting five of them. He also saved six of eight break points against his own serve.

Monaco will look to claim his second title in Houston when he takes on Jack Sock in the final on Sunday. He previously won the title in 2012. The Argentinian is seeking his first title since 2013.