The yellow ball plopped on the purple court like a splotch of paint on canvas. Streaking forward with the urgency of a man racing after a runaway rental car with his racquets trapped in the trunk, Juan Monaco ran down Mardy Fish's drop shot and knifed a controlled reply up the line. A startled Fish knocked a forehand into net. That sequence typified today's Sony Ericsson Open quarterfinal—on a day in which Monaco ran down almost everything, nothing was working for Fish.
Monaco celebrated his 28th birthday with a cakewalk win, reeling off eight of the first nine games to dismiss a sluggish Fish, 6-1, 6-3, and roar into his second career Masters semifinal.
Argentine flags were flying and Monaco was soaring as that eye-popping get sparked his second break and a 5-1 first-set lead. Fish, who spent much of this match fighting himself, committed three return errors in the ensuing game as Monaco served out the 32-minute set at love. The world No. 21 served almost flawlessly in the opener, missing just one first serve. Fish, who surrendered serve just three times through three tournament matches, was flat and endured the tennis equivalent of a horror show in committing 13 unforced errors in the first set, including several off his typically reliable two-handed backhand, while Monaco converted five of nine break-point chances.
A fast-footed grinder who changes direction quickly, Monaco doesn't own one overwhelming weapon, but he's skilled at constructing points. He doesn't possess the pure power of countryman Juan Martin del Potro, the flashy shotmaking skill of David Nalbandian, or the physicality of former Miami finalist Guillermo Canas, but Monaco is a tenacious competitor who relishes long rallies and can run all day long. Playing with passion from the first point, he consistently beat the American to the ball, and when Monaco looped a leaping lob into the corner, he had another break for a 1-0 second-set lead.
The eighth-ranked Fish grew up in Vero Beach, Fla. and declared his disappointment in being relegated to the outer courts in both Indian Wells and Miami. But Fish didn't bring his A game to the big stage today. The court seemed as small as a sandbox and the net as tall as the back wall, as Fish repeatedly slapped shots into net. "This is the worst I've seen (Fish) play—ever," ESPN analyst Patrick McEnroe, Fish's former Davis Cup captain, remarked three games into the second set.
The 2011 semifinalist made a short stand when he broke for 3-3. It was a brief reprieve as Monaco lofted a lob that ticked off the top of Fish's Wilson frame to break right back. Monaco won eight of the last nine points, sealing the march with a stunning half-volley winner. He tossed his racquet aside and punched the air emphatically in dismantling his third straight seeded opponent. Monaco will meet either Novak Djokovic or David Ferrer for a place in the final.
"It's unbelievable to celebrate this way," an ecstatic Monaco told ESPN's Brad Gilbert. "Every shot I want to play, I did. It was a perfect match for me."