ATP World Tour Finals 2011: Federer overcomes Tsonga
Roger Federer began his campaign for a sixth WTF title with a 6-2 2-6 6-4 victory over Jo Wilfried-Tsonga
And so it begins””the fight for what amounts to the fifth Grand Slam of the year””appropriately enough with the defending champion Roger Federer.
The prize-money is eye-watering””a total of more than £2.25m is at stake””and the kudos for the winner is incalculable.
This is the third World Tour Finals to be held at tennis’s biggest indoor arena””London’s O2 holds 17,500″”and the opening day is a sell-out. Little wonder, with 10-time finalist Federer taking centre stage for the day session and seven-time qualifier Rafael Nadal highlighting the evening session.
Never before have they competed in the same Round Robin and so never before have they featured on the same opening day. Their much-anticipated head-to-head is a treat to come. First, they had to play the other two men in their pool.
World No6 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga took on Federer for an intriguing seventh time this year. The last meeting was only a week ago in the final of the Frenchman’s home tournament at the Paris Masters, but it was their earlier meetings that made this latest confrontation intriguing.
Tsonga was the first player to come from two sets down to beat Federer in a Slam at Wimbledon and he went on to beat him again in Montreal.
Federer subsequently replied with wins at the US Open and then, in conveniently timely fashion, in Paris, but there was no doubting Tsonga’s current form.
The crowd-pleasing Frenchman won two indoor titles this autumn””in Metz and Vienna””before the Paris final, but then Federer appeared to have saved the best for last, too, coming into London on a 12-match, two-title winning streak during which he dropped just one set.
Federer’s supremacy in their most recent matches showed straight away in a barn-storming first set of just 21 minutes. He took just a game to “settle down” before unleashing his full arsenal of shot-making.
Tsonga looked shell-shocked: He seemed unable to read the Federer serve nor the pace of the court. With the French first serve floundering at 44 percent, Federer forced a quick break in the fourth game and followed it with a love service game that took the Swiss to a 5-2 lead.
It was not the ideal time for Tsonga’s first double fault””it brought up three break points and the Swiss returned a vicious forehand to the approaching feet of Tsonga to break again for a 6-2 set.
But things can change very quickly in tennis. On this occasion, it seemed almost as though the two men had changed shoes as Tsonga began to strike the ball cleanly and strongly, losing only two points on his serve.
Federer was unable to contain some beautifully struck serves and forehands and the Frenchman took advantage to break in the fourth game. His serves came at 135mph, then 137mph, while the Federer serve dropped a level. Tsonga closed out the set in style, breaking Federer again before serving out with an ace: 6-2.
Tsonga summed it up afterwards with smiling understatement. “I think he was a bit surprised because I played so bad in the first set, then I played correctly, you know.” It was considerably better than “correct”.
Federer managed to steady the ship at the start of the final set and had the advantage of serving first, but the big serves kept coming from Tsonga. In his second game alone, he found a string of four that flew from 135mph up to 138mph.
It came down, in the end, to a single weak game from Tsonga. The only double fault of the set and a couple of wayward first serves brought up three match points for Federer. Tsonga saved the first with an ace but Federer is never more dangerous than when he smells victory.
As it happens, even the frame of his racket was now working well and he snatched the win with a mishit, 6-4.
Tsonga confirmed afterwards that nerves had not been the problem. “It’s always difficult because he’s really quick and sometimes you think you will get the point and Roger is still there. That’s why it’s difficult to play against him.”
Federer knew what a close call he had had, too””and admitted to a flashback to that Wimbledon loss from a two-set lead. “Once he gets it going, he starts off every game with a great serve and from then on it seems like he’s taking all the right decisions. I had flashes of that match because I didn’t have much of a chance for a while on his serve.”
A quick glance at the Federer box revealed a face that might have split loyalties: Thierry Henry sat sandwiched between Federer’s wife Mirka and Mr Federer senior. Federer asserted that they are simply old friends catching up.
Whether Tsonga had his countryman in mind when he responded to questions about his first experience of the O2 atmosphere, we shall probably never know: “Was good! Everybody was for Roger but that’s OK.” And the Tsonga smile, as ever, lit up the room.