Pain-Free Juan Monaco Seeks To End His Title Drought In Houston - UBITENNIS
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Pain-Free Juan Monaco Seeks To End His Title Drought In Houston

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The wrist injury that resulted in Juan Monaco missing six months of action is now a thing of the past as the former world No.10 prepares for his first ATP final since March 2015.

 

In late 2015, the Argentine underwent surgery to repair a damaged tendon in his right wrist after retiring during his match against Robin Haase in the first round of Kitzbuhel Open. The 32-year-old returned to the tour in February on home territory at the Buenos Aires Open, however, it hasn’t been a smooth comeback. At the Rio Open he retired during his first round match against Daniel Gimeno-Traver due to a shoulder problem. Despite his shoulder scare, Monaco participated in both Masters tournaments in Indian Wells and Miami.

Monaco’s roller coaster journey has finally paid off with his run at this week’s U.S Men’s Clay Court Championships in Houston. Producing back-to-back wins over second seed Benoit Paire and fifth seed Sam Querrey, he reached his first ATP semifinal of the year. The impressive run continued on Saturday with a 6-4, 6-2, win over Spanish third seed Feliciano Lopez.

A couple months ago, reaching the final of a tournament appeared a tall order due to his injury uncertainties. Nevertheless Monaco, known by many as ‘Pico’, told local media in Houston that he is injury free and his wrist is fully recovered.

“This fast … amazing. My wrist is perfect,” Monaco said.
 “I have played just four tournaments this year. Practicing, doing my rehab, I was thinking about playing a final again. You give your best, but you never know when it’s going to be. I’m really happy the moment comes fast.”

The popular Argentine will play in his 21st ATP final in Houston, first since last year’s Argentina Open. A triumph in the final would give Monaco his first title since the 2013 Dusseldorf Open and his second Houston title after 2012.

Standing in the way of his bid for a second title in Houston will be defending champion Jack Sock. The 23-year-old American battled past John Isner 7-6(4), 6-3, in his semifinal match. Sock will be the overwhelming favorite in Sunday’s final, however, he isn’t expecting an easy time against the former world No.10.

Pico is a very good player with a very good clay-court record.” Sock said about playing Monaco in the final.

If Monaco pulls off a shock win in Sunday’s final, he will become the first man from his country to win the Houston title on multiple occasions since José Luis Clerc back in 1981.

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Grand Slam Champions Sabalenka, Rybakina To Start 2024 Campaigns In Brisbane

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Aryna Sabalenka will begin her preparation for a second consecutive Australian Open title by playing a warm-up event in Brisbane during the first week of January.

 

The world No.2 is among a trio of players that has been added to the line-up for the combined event with the women’s draw being increased from 32 to 48 players. It will be the first time in Sabalenka’s career that she has played in Brisbane after the tournament wasn’t held between 2021-2023. 

“I’m excited about starting my 2024 Australian season in Brisbane. Australia holds a special place in my heart after winning my first Grand Slam there,” Sabalenka said in a press release.
“I can’t wait to make my debut at the Brisbane International and play in front of the Queensland tennis fans. It’s a tournament that’s attracted so many good players in the past and I’m hoping it will set me up for another successful summer.”

Sabalenka will be hoping to continue her run of good form from 2023 into the new season. This year she won her maiden Grand Slam title at Melbourne Park, was runer-up to Coco Gauff at the US Open and reached the semi-finals at the two other major events. She also won the Madrid Open in May which is the biggest clay-court title of her career to date. 

Also joining the Belarussian in the draw is former Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina. The world No.4 was runner-up to Sabalenka at the Australian Open earlier this year. She has won five WTA titles so far in her career with two of those occurring this year in Indian Wells and Rome. 

As for the men’s draw, which is categorized as an ATP 250 event, Ben Shelton has confirmed his entry. The 21-year-old played his first-ever international event back in January and since the start of the year, he has risen almost 80 places in the rankings to 17th in the world. His career-best ranking is 15th which was achieved last month. 

“I’m thrilled to be playing the Brisbane International for the first time in 2024. My first trip to Australia was last January, and it was such an amazing experience. The fans were so welcoming,” said Shelton.
“I’m looking forward to exploring Brisbane and playing in front of the local fans. Hopefully, there will also be a chance to fit in some sightseeing during my visit.”

The Brisbane International has already confirmed that Naomi Osaka will also be playing in what will be her first tournament since becoming a mother. Andy Murray, Victoria Azarenka, Holger Rune and Grigor Dimitrov are also set to play at the Queensland Tennis Centre.

The tournament will take place from 31 December to 7 January. 

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Fabio Fognini beats Roberto Bautista Agut to win the ATP Challenger in Valencia

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Fabio Fognini came back from one set down to beat Roberto Bautista Agut 3-6 7-6 (10-8) 7-6 (7-3) after 3 hours and 11 minutes in the final of the Copa Faulcombridge, an ATP Challenger Tour in Valencia. Fognini has won his first ATP title at any level since his triumph at the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters in 2019. 

 

Fognini earned an early break in the third game to take a 2-1 lead. Bautista Agut broke back in the fourth game to draw level to 2-2. The Spanish player broke for the second game in the eighth game to seal the first set 6-3. 

The second set went on serve until 4-4 in the second set. Bautista Agut broke serve in the ninth game to take a 5-4 earning the chance to serve for the match. Fognini broke back in the 10th game to draw level to 5-5. Bautista Agut earned a set point at 6-5. 

Fognini saved two match points at 4-5 in the second set and another at 7-8 in the tie-break of the second set before sealing the second set on his third set point. Fognini went up a break in the first and seventh games of the third set , but Bautista Agut pulled back on serve both times to draw level to 4-4. Bautista Agut earned a mini-break to take a 2-1 lead. Fognini won six of the next seven points with three mini-breaks to seal the tie-break 7-3. 

Fognini becomes the ninth ATP Challenger Tour champion to save at least one match point in a final this year. 

Fognini and Bautista Agut were competing against each other for the 12th time. 

Fognini becomes the oldest Challenger winner this season. 

Chilean Alejandro Tabilo beat Alejandro Burruchaga 6-3 7-6 (8-6) to claim his ATP Challenger trophy. Tabilo has become the fourth South American player to win at least four Challenger titles in 2023 following in the footsteps of Mariano Navone, Facundo Diaz Acosta and Thiago Seyboth Wild. Japan’s Yosuke Watanuki clinched his first ATP Challenger title of the season on home soil at the Yokohama Keio Challenger beating Yuta Shimizu 7-6 (7-5) 6-4. Watanuki has become the fourth Japanese  player to win the Challenger 75 tournament. 

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Arthur Fils faces Luca Nardi in the opening match of the Next Gen Finals

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The official draw of the Next Gen ATP Finals was held last weekend in Jeddah. 

 

French top seed Arthur Fils will be joined in Green Group by Dominic Stricker, Flavio Cobolli and Luca Nardi. 

Luca Van Assche lead  Red Group, which also features Alex Michelsen, Hamad Medjedovic and Abdullah Shelbayh. 

The Next Gen Finals will take place at King Abdullah Sports City. 

Green Group: 

Stricker returns to the Next Gen Finals for the second consecutive season after after reaching the semifinals in last year’s edition held in Milan. 

Stricker completed a perfect 3-0 round-robin campaign at last year’s edition of the Next Gen ATP Finals in Milan., but he was beaten by Jiri Lehecka in the semifinals. The Swiss player qualified at the last three Grand Slam tournaments this season and reached the fourth round at the US Open last September after beating Stefanos Tsitsipas in five sets. He also won two ATP Challenger tournaments in Rovereto and Prague. 

Stricker had his first practice session with his fellow competitor Arthur Fils on Saturday in Jeddah. 

Dominic Stricker: “It’s a great arena. It felt really good from the beginning onwards. I was at this event last year, so it’s great to come back. It’s a super event. Everything is organized well. I had a great practice with Arthur Fils. I have been here once before. I was excited to come here again. I really I liked it the time I was here before, so I hope I can enjoy my stay here. It’s my first time in this stadium, but it looks great and feels great. The court feels good. Everything looks really good so far”. 

Fils enters the Jeddah Next Gen Finals with a career-high of world number 36. The Frenchman won his first title in Lyon and reached the final in Antwerp where he finished runner-up to Alexander Bublik. He also lost to Alexander Zverev in the semifinal of the Hamburg ATP 500 tournament and won two ATP Challenger titles in Oeiras and Quimper. 

Cobolli and Nardi have been drawn in the same group joining Fils and Stricker. Cobolli has reached the top 100  and won the ATP Challenger tournament in Lisbon and reached the final in Olbia. 

Nardi will clash against Fils in the opening Green Group match on Tuesday. Nardi, was an alternate at the 2022 edition of the Next Gen ATP Finals in Milan, won the ATP Challenger title in Matsuyama earlier this month and reached the semifinals in Kobe and the quarter finals in Yokohama. Last year he won the ATP Challenger in Mallorca and lost to Stefanos Tsitsipas in the Round of 16 in Astana.  

Red Group: 

Van Assche will take on Jordanian Next Gen star Abdullah Shelbayh in the evening session. Van Assche reached the quarter finals at the ATP tournaments in Hamburg and Metz. Van Assche beat Stan Wawrinka to earn his second ATP Tour match in Banja Luka in 2023 before losing to Novak Djokovic in three sets. 

Shelbayh became the first Arab player to win an ATP Challenger tournament in Charleston and lost to Lorenzo Sonego in the Round of 16 in Metz. He was the first player from Jordan to play an ATP Tour main draw match in Doha last February and the first player from his country to win a match on the ATP Tour in Banja Luka last April. Shelbayh attended the University of Florida for one year. He competed on the same team as Ben Shelton and under the tutelage of Shelton’s father Bryan Shelton. 

Alex Michelsen will face Hamad Medjedovic in the second evening session match. Michelsen finished runner-up to Adrian Mannarino in the final in Newport and won nine of the ten matches. The US player won the ATP Challenger in Knoxville beating Denis Kudla. 

Medjedovic won three ATP Challenger Tour titles this year in Szekesfehrvar, Mauthausen and Mallorca and reached the semifinal in Gstaad. The Serbian player is coached by former world number 12 Viktor Troicki and is aiming to follow in the footsteps of Serbian tennis legends Novak Djokovic, Janko Tipasericic and Viktor Troicki. Hamad Medjedovic: 

“It was a big thing for sure growing up, having so many good players in our country. I remember starting to watch tennis when I was a kid. We had Novak Djokovic, Viktor Troicki and Janko Tipsarevic and they were so good. I remember watching them constantly. As a kid it gave me a lot of motivation to start playing tennis and then to become one of them because I saw that they could do it. They are coming from a small country, same as me, and it gave a me a lot of motivation and self-belief that I could do it as well”. 

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