Roger Federer and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga have developed a nice niche rivalry in 2011. Theirs may not fit the classic definition of a rivalry and it may not possess the cachet of Federer-Nadal or Nadal-Djokovic, but from a purely aesthetic standpoint, the regal and refined Federer pitted against the dynamic and flamboyant Tsonga is about as dreamy as it gets.
The pair’s seventh meeting of the season, a 6-2, 2-6, 6-4 Federer victory, started anticlimactically. Each player was tentative early, but it was Tsonga whose nerves bit him first, in the fourth game of the first set. The Frenchman didn’t make a first serve in that game, and to make matters worse, he missed badly on two consecutive inside out forehands – his bread and butter when he’s going good – to hand Fed the first break of the match.
Federer had expressed slight concern about the speed of the courts at the O2 Arena earlier in the week, but he didn’t seem to mind serving on the speedy surface as this match began. He lost three points on serve in the first set, facing no break points. Meanwhile, Tsonga continued to look badly out of sorts. He double faulted at 2-5, 0-30, and Federer had the set when Tsonga dumped a volley into the net on the next point.
But Tsonga rallied, buoyed by the support of the crowd when he held to draw even in the second game of the second set. His feet started to move with a sense of urgency, and when Federer missed on two identical forehands from 30-all of the very next game, Tsonga had taken advantage of an oft-recurring Federer theme: the inexplicably loose game. With Tsonga holding the break advantage in the second set, things were finally getting interesting.
In the third set, Tsonga took the dominant role, attempting to hit Federer off the faster court, while Federer stayed defensive, looking to find the crack in the armor of his now emboldened opponent.
The two traded holds, until the crack in Tsonga’s armor finally opened up. On a day that loose play was the norm rather than the exception, Tsonga’s final walkabout (a botched volley and a double fault) while serving to stay in the match left him facing triple match point.
He saved one, but Federer sailed a nifty backhand pass past Tsonga to seal the deal on the next.