Jo-Wilfried Tsonga has caused plenty of problems for Roger Federer this year, but Fed had the upper hand, like in Paris, on the opening match of the ATP World Tour Finals in London, beating the Frenchman in three sets. Later on that day, it was Rafael Nadal who was pushed by Mardy Fish, but Nadal also survived to come away with a win.
Each match Federer plays against Tsonga he’s fighting age, youth, and his place in the game. Tsonga isn’t that young, 26 means quite a veteran in the Tennis world, but his style, fitness as opposed to Federer, on the wrong side of 30, slowly slipping down the rankings, makes their numerous encounters mean something more than just a simple Tennis rivalry.
It all comes down to the Wimbledon collapse this summer, with Federer taking a 2-0 lead and eventually losing the match. It happened again a few months later in New York against Novak Djokovic. But there isn’t any discussion about who’s the best player in the world right now – Novak is. Tsonga? A wildcard, as unpredicatable to himself as to his opponents – It’s not always in your control when you play Jo. That’s the beauty of it. I kind of enjoy that to some degree. But I think also partially because it was a first-round match, I think that’s maybe why we saw some ups and downs from both players.
Federer crushed Tsonga in the first set, as usual in matches between the two, taking it 6-2. Second set – Role reversal. Tsonga got his engines fired up and stopped looking like someone just here to enjoy the show, blasting Federer with his forehand and serve, winning back 6-2. Third set? Tsonga faltered behind 5-4 and Federer broke him at 15-15. His third straight win over Tsonga, his 13th consecutive victory after Basel and Paris.
For Rafael Nadal, it always looks like a battle against his own fitness. Unless he’s facing Novak Djokovic. But anyone else? Nadal just needs to be fit, and he’ll make it through. Mardy Fish does pose some problems for Rafa, with Nadal’s favorite cross court shot falling right into Fish’s comfort zone, a baseline backhand he loves so much.
The two reached a third set tiebreak, which Nadal took. Playing on the Fish forehand, at long last, paid dividends. His usual Icing of opponents, this time with a sudden bathroom break, happened again. Every time I think I’m learning to love Rafa, he pulls one of his unethical stunts. Mardy Fish didn’t make anything of it. He just seemed please to be in London.