He doesn't have the fame and notoriety of countryman Juan Martin del Potro, but Juan Monaco was also born in Tandil, Argentina, and resides in the ATP World Tour's top 20. And with a ranking of No. 16 (just two spots behind his career best), Monaco could soon catch the No. 11-ranked del Potro. Monaco was 12-5 heading into this week's Houston tournament and was a revelation at the Sony Ericsson, equaling his best Masters 1000 effort, reaching the semifinals before losing to No. 1-ranked Novak Djokovic.
After falling in the first round of the Australian Open, Monaco won at Vina del Mar in Chile for the fourth title of his career -- and the first in nearly five years. Monaco also won a singles match this past Sunday to help Argentina into the Davis Cup semifinals, where it will host the Czech Republic in September. ESPN.com caught up with Monaco before his first match at the U.S. Men's Clay Court Championships.
JM: It was amazing and a little strange because they are kind of heroes in America. We were playing on the big courts, and hard courts are not my best surface. And when I played Fish, it was my [28th] birthday, so it was special, a double happiness.
ESPN.com: You say hard courts aren't your best surface, but I wonder about that. You got to the fourth round of the U.S. Open last year and won four matches in Miami, including one over Gael Monfils. How do you explain your recent results?
JM: I was born playing on clay; it's normal for me. But lately my game has been improving a lot. I am competing better on hard courts because I lost the fear to play on them. I'm more aggressive now; I try to go for more and hit volleys to finish points at net. I also improved my serve. I am trying to enjoy it more, and the victories are coming a lot. I changed my mind a little bit and it gives me confidence.
ESPN.com: You weren't originally scheduled to play Houston. What prompted you to take a wild card there?
JM: I didn't play so well in South America. I lost in the second round at Buenos Aires [to David Nalbandian] and in the first round at Acapulco [to Albert Ramos]. I was looking to come here to get some more confidence before the big tournaments in Europe.
ESPN.com: How important is it for you to play well in Houston, and what's your clay-court schedule?
JM: For me, this tournament is very, very import to find my rhythm on clay. It takes time. After that I will play Monte Carlo and Barcelona before taking a week off. Then it's Madrid, Rome and Roland Garros.
ESPN.com: What are your goals for the season?
JM: I'm feeling great right now. I'm ranked No. 16 and not defending many points until the U.S. Open. I've got a good chance to really improve my ranking. My goal is to reach the top 10. It's a big jump, but not that far. I will take it step by step, little by little, and we will see if it happens. It would be the goal of my career to be top 10.