In a Grand Slam draw where 34 of the 128 competitors are aged 30 or above, it’s debatable whether 28-year-old Juan Monaco could technically be labelled a late bloomer. It’s true, however, that Wimbledon success has come late to the Argentine; having never claimed a match at the All England Club, he’s now won two, with his opening round win over Leonardo Mayer followed by a four-set win over Jeremy Chardy.
The sturdy win over the 57th ranked Frenchman continues an impressive year for Monaco, who claimed two of five career titles in recent months to enter Wimbledon with a career high ranking of No. 14. While both those victories occurred on clay – he defeated Carols Berloq to win Vina del Mar and John Isner to claim Houston – the career best form perhaps provided the confidence to translate that success to a surface that’s never provided much interest, Wimbledon being the only grass court event he’s contested.
The lack of grass court experience hardly seems to be troubling Monaco, who broke the Frenchman’s serve in the opening game and again in the seventh game, before serving out the first set 6-2 in 29 minutes.
Dropping his own serve in the fifth game of the second set provided Chardy with the opportunity to serve out the second set, but even as his opponent lifted with an impressive serving display of 17 aces and just a single double fault (compared to two aces and five double faults from Monaco), the Argentine remained dogged to claim the 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 7-6(3) win in just over two and a half hours.
Richard Gasquet, on the other hand, would hardly be considered a late comer to big time success.. The Frenchman has been touted for big time success from the earliest age, appearing on the cover of his country’s tennis magazine at age nine, and named the ITF’s Junior Boys’ World Champion after winning the French Open junior title in 2002.
While the 26-year-old Frenchman has never quite lived up to the expectations that those childhood milestones suggested, he has achieved his career best Grand Slam result at Wimbledon – in 2007 he made his only major semi-final appearance after recovering from a two-sets deficit to defeat Andy Roddick 4-6, 4-6, 7-6,7-6, 8-6 in the quarter-finals, before losing to eventual champion Roger Federer.
Few knew what to expect of the Frenchman in 2012, with his changeable Wimbledon record since– he missed the 2009 and 2010 events and lost in the fourth round to Andy Murray last year – not helped by a surprise opening round loss to the lower-ranked Marinko Matosevic in Eastbourne.
So far, however, there’s been smooth progress from the world No. 19, who ousted Tobias Kamke 6-2, 6-2, 6-2 in the first round before advancing to the third round with a 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 victory over Belgian qualified Ruben Bemelmans.
The last match on Court 18 after play was interrupted through a lengthy rain delay, Gasquet clearly understood the value of completing the match before fading light intervened. Bemelmans was contesting only his second Grand Slam main draw and challenged the Frenchman with some acute angles on impressive groundstrokes, but the more experienced man was ultimately the most successful one. Gasquet dictated with his trademark backhand to complete the victory in an hour and 42 minutes.
Monaco, who faces either Viktor Troicki or Martin Klizan in the third round before a potential meeting with Novak Djokovic in the fourth round, is well placed to maintain momentum if his form in other big events this season is a reliable guide.
His unprecedented Wimbledon run follows a fourth-round finish at the French Open, where he lost to eventual champion Rafael Nadal and a semi-final appearance at the Miami Masters, where he lost to Djokovic. Adding to all those confidence-boosting experiences is Monaco’s role in helping Argentina qualify for the Davis Cup semi-finals, which will be staged in Buenos Aires in September.