Friday, May 23, 2008

Juan Monaco Saves 3 M.P. to Set Up Davydenko Final in Poertschach

Juan Monaco
Juan Monaco Saves 3 M.P. to Set Up Davydenko Final in Poertschach

Second-seeded Argentine Juan Monaco took a step closer to defending his title at the Hypo Group Tennis International when he defeated No. 3 seed Ivan Ljubicic after a lengthy semifinal tussle 6-4, 6-7(4), 7-6(4).

Watched by Guillermo Vilas, Monaco battled back from a 3-5 deficit and three match points down in the third set to reach the final after 2hr., 54min. The victory avenges Monaco’s five set loss to Ljubicic at Roland Garros two years ago.

“It’s amazing. I don’t remember the last time that I won a match having been match point down,” said Monaco afterwards. “The thing that was very good for me today was that I never gave up; I always kept fighting all the time. In my mind I always think that I can win the match. I think it’s the best preparation for Paris.”

World No. 14 Monaco, who had to win two matches on Thursday to reach the semifinals, captured the title in Pörtschach last year, one of three ATP titles he won in 2007, with victory over Gael Monfils in the final. He also reached the quarterfinals (l. to Horna) on his debut in 2006.

The 24-year-old is through to his second ATP final of the season; he was forced to withdraw with injury before the match began from his first in Vina del Mar earlier in the season, where Fernando Gonzalez was crowned champion. Standing at 23-10 for the season, he has also been a semifinalist in Auckland (l. to Kohlschreiber) and a quarterfinalist in Valencia (l. to Almagro).

World No. 29 Ljubicic, who saved six match points in his dramatic quarterfinal victory over Daniel Gimeno-Traver on Thursday, was through to his third ATP semifinal of the season and was bidding for a place in his first ATP clay court final. He slips to 13-10 for the season.

In the final, he will face top-seeded Russian Nikolay Davydenko, who converted four of nine break points in defeating compatriot Igor Kunitsyn 6-3, 6-2 to reach his fourth final in Pörtschach. Davydenko also won their one previous ATP meeting in three sets on carpet in St. Petersburg four years ago.

The 26-year-old Davydenko is making his seventh appearance at the tournament and has a sparkling record, winning titles in 2005 (d. Melzer) and 2006 (d. Pavel) and finishing as runner-up in 2003 (l. to Roddick).

World No. 4 Davydenko is through to his third ATP final of the season, and his second on clay. He captured his second ATP Masters Series shield in Miami (d. Nadal) and retired against No. 1 Roger Federer in the Estoril final. He now stands at 33-9 for the season, second only to No. 2 Rafael Nadal, who leads the ATP circuit with 37 match wins.

Kunitsyn, currently No. 96 in the South African Airways ATP Rankings, was through to his first ATP semifinal since 2006 St. Petersburg (l. to T. Johansson). He now slips to 0-2 lifetime against Top 10 players and to 6-5 for the season.

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AP Photo/ Kerstin Joensson