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Wednesday September 26, 2012

Argentina’s ‘Pico’ aims to stand tall

KUALA LUMPUR: Juan Monaco is one of the fittest players in the ATP circuit – but he also has one of the most unique nicknames.

Fondly known as Pico, the world No. 11 from Tandil, Argentina, explains that the nickname was given by his father’s friends.

“When I was a young lad, my dad’s friends used to call me Picquito because I was little. But then I grew up a little and they started calling me Pico,” joked Monaco, who appeared fresh for an interview yesteday despite having arrived in Malaysia on Monday night after a 36-hour flight from Argentina.

Jokes aside, the 28-year-old Monaco is one of the in-form players on the ATP Tour – bar the first round exit at the US Open – and is certainly favoured to rival Spain’s David Ferrer for the Malaysian Open ATP 250 championship title.

Monaco, who idolises Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras and hometown hero Mariano Zabaleta, has certainly come a long way since leaving Tandil at the tender age of 15 to train in Spain.

Three ATP World Tour wins this year – at Vina del Mar (Chile), Houston (US) and Hamburg (Germany) – saw him briefly reaching a career high No. 10 in the world before dropping back down a rung.

Still, Monaco, who is primarily a clay court specialist, is hungry for more. “When I was young, I used to view the likes of Agassi, Sampras and Zabaleta as my mirror image and would try to imitate their styles,” he said

“This is definitely my best year, having reached the top 10 ... something I have always dreamed of in the past but never achieved.

“Of course it is also everyone’s dream to make it to the top 10 and I can’t be satisfied with what I have done.

“The circuit these days is so competitive and the level of all the guys is simply amazing. What keeps me going is the fact that I enjoy tennis and will always try to improve.”

Monaco, who is seeded second in his maiden appearance in Malaysia, feels that it will be tough to take on an Asian in his first match after being given a first round bye and second-round clash with Taiwan’s Jimmy Wang tomorrow.

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