It could have been a tougher run. It wasn’t Roger Federer’s incredible Australian Open triumph. But Jo-Wilfried Tsonga’s recent achievements should not be played down. Read on.
Nine matches played. Nine matches won.
You wouldn’t be surprised if this record was in reference to Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Andy Murray, or even Stan Wawrinka. But what if it was in regard to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga?
Because this time, he is exactly the man this description matches.
It has happened. After 18 months of grapples with injury, horrible Grand Slam draws, and the same inconsistency that has plagued him throughout his career, 31-year-old Tsonga ended his ATP title drought. Two weeks ago, in Rotterdam, he won a singles crown for the first time since the 2015 Moselle Open. And just for good measure, the Frenchman claimed another one at home in Marseille on Sunday.
You clap. You say Well Done. And then you say: “But at the end of the day, they weren’t major events.”
It’s a fair comment. And it’s true that Tsonga did not oust any elite names on the way to reclaiming ATP silverware. But sometimes, other factors are more important than the status of those who stood in the way.
The highest rank of one of Tsonga’s victims over the last fortnight was world no. 7. But whether they had been ranked world no. 1 or world no. 100, it might not have made any difference at all. Because Tsonga simply played his game, and he executed it to the highest standard: one that has seen him to at least two wins over each member of the renowned Big Four. The Frenchman’s 16 of 18 sets won prove that his precise, channelled power rarely relented throughout 14 days of competition in two different countries. And a perfect four of four tiebreaks won – three against some of the biggest servers on tour – is not to be scoffed at.
Speaking of big servers, that introduces another reason why Tsonga’s recent run – after which he is wisely taking a break prior to Indian Wells – is so impressive. The streak featured an array of such varied opposition that his mind and physicality were constantly challenged. After being pushed by the highly ambitious and intense teenager Stefanos Tsitsipas in the Rotterdam first round, he outlasted a trio of huge-serving big hitters – and all without losing a set. With Gilles Muller out of the way, things got no easier against Marin Cilic and Tomas Berdych: two men who held substantial head-to-head advantages over the Frenchman. All the same, it was an in-form David Goffin who proved the only man able to steal a set of the blazing baseliner at the ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament. Even then, Tsonga rebounded, winning nine of the last ten games to deal the Belgian his second loss in a final in as many weeks. The jump from Berdych’s big shots to Goffin’s feel for the ball made this achievement all the greater.
And in Marseille, distinct differences in competition were evident in every round that passed. From Illya Marchenko and his solid backhand, to the craft and touch of Gilles Simon, to the raw firepower and trick shots of Nick Kyrgios, and – finally – to the fresh energy of Lucas Pouille, Tsonga was constantly forced to adapt. And he did so in a way that, in recent months, has been uncommon.
He did it efficiently.
Soon to be a father for the first time, and discovering tennis triumph once more – after a long labour of love in the aftermath of his 2011 glory days – Tsonga is in a good place. The serve is still booming, and is especially reliable when facing a deficit. He is unafraid to approach the net, whether to smash away a winner or display his incredible reach. The backhand is an underestimated shot, the forehand is a major weapon, and he has all the tools necessary to combat – and dominate – any gamestyle.
Cilic was his highest ranked victim during his recent successes. But Jo-Wilfried Tsonga is back up to world no. 7, and possesses 17 wins to three losses on the season. And as a result, he has the form and confidence to launch a surprise at any of the next three majors.
Thanks for reading! What do you make of Tsonga’s run? Think he hasn’t been tested enough, or that he’s been well prepared for bigger challenges? Comment away!