HoustonChronicle.com -- http://www.HoustonChronicle.com
April 10, 2006
RIVER OAKS INTERNATIONAL
Crowd loves marathon man
Hanescu's king at clay tourney, but the fans think Monaco's a prince for hours on court
By DALE ROBERTSON
Copyright 2006 Houston Chronicle
Next up for Victor Hanescu is a trip to Monte Carlo. He'll find getting there is less tiring than trying to go through Monaco on Sunday.
That's Juan Monaco, the energetic, apparently indefatigable young Argentine who plays tennis like he's getting paid by the hour.
Monaco, 22, who won the 72nd River Oaks International doubles championship with Peru's Luis Horna on Saturday night, didn't win the singles title from Hanescu on Sunday — but he won a stadium full of hearts for the heart he showed in reaching the final.
Call him the Ernie Banks of tennis, except he says, "Let's play three!"
Answering the call
In theory, Monaco should have gone down easily against the more accomplished and far more rested Romanian Hanescu.
But he had shown Saturday that doing things the easy way isn't his forte.
It took Monaco three hours, 14 minutes to fight past Greece's Vasilis Mazarakis in Saturday's semifinals and another two hours, 58 minutes before he let Hanescu off the hook 6-7 (1), 6-4, 7-5 on Sunday.
In between, he spent 80 more minutes in the doubles final, this after needing three sets and two hours Friday night to take out Horna.
At least Monaco isn't being asked to return to the fray tonight against American Mardy Fish, his first-round opponent in the U.S. Clay Court Championships at Westside Tennis Club. But had the ATP scheduled Monaco to play tonight, he insists that would have been perfectly fine with him.
"I feel well," Monaco said. "I sleep good, I do some good stretching with my physical trainer, (I have) some good food to eat and I recover very well.
"Much tennis yes, but tennis is like this. If you want to win, you have to run and you have to fight. Here the matches were so long, but I am a fighter. I like to play three sets. I like so much to stay on the court. I know it's good for me and maybe not so good for the other guy."
Determination in final
The second-seeded Hanescu didn't seem to enjoy the ordeal as much as the young man he beat, but he also grimly stayed the course.
He refused to throw up his arms in frustration despite failing to convert countless opportunities to make the match short.
The two players had never faced off, but Hanescu said knew enough about the Argentine to realized what he was in for.
"I expected a tough match," Hanescu said. "I know he doesn't quit, and he didn't."
No, he doesn't. Monaco fought off seven break points in the first game alone, a sign of the arduous things to come. He also saved three set points against him before forcing the tiebreaker, which he dominated, losing his only point on a double fault.
Then, after letting the second set slip away despite getting up a break on Hanescu early, he broke in the seventh and ninth games of the third set.
Even in the final game, he forced Hanescu to a third championship point before succumbing on a perfectly placed, crosscourt forehand.
Monaco wasn't going to lose the title. Rather, Hanescu, ranked 47th on the ATP computer to his 71st, was going to have to take it.
Payday for No. 2
Monaco heads across town with $35,000 in his pocket and, he said, "some very good experience" to show for his hard week's work at River Oaks.
Monaco is the No. 10 player in his country, and he's ahead of Mariano Puerta and Guillermo Cañas only because they have been suspended for failing drug tests.
Hanescu pocketed $50,000, enough to make the trip to Houston worthwhile.
He said he isn't staying for the Clay Courts because he wanted to return to Bucharest for a day or two.
Then he will go to Monte Carlo early to practice for the year's first Masters Series tournament on clay.