ATP World Tour Finals 2011: Tsonga beats Berdych to the final
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga will take on Roger Federer in Sunday's final after beating Tomas Berdych 6-3 7-5 in London
It was always going to be a hard one to call between two men who had qualified for London at the last available tournament.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga reached three finals in the run-up to the World Tour Finals, all on indoor hard courts. He won his only titles of the year at two of them””Vienna and Metz.
Tomas Berdych won his only title of 2011 on the hard courts of Beijing last month and reached the semi-finals of the Paris Masters.
Both of the big-hitting 26-year-olds had been to the tour finale once before. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga went to Shanghai in 2008 in a break-through year that saw him reach the final of his thus-far only Grand Slam final in Australia and win his thus-far only Masters title in Paris. It was the year he reached a career-high ranking of No6 and, this autumn, he has reclaimed the same ranking.
Tomas Berdych played in London last year after also reaching his first Grand Slam final at Wimbledon and the final of the Miami Masters. Like Tsonga, he fell at the Round Robin stage but hit a career high ranking that he has all but matched this month.
But the main reason this was a hard one to call was because they had only met each other once before””in the semi-final at Beijing. Berdych beat the Frenchman in three sets before going on to the title.
So the pair of men who had both won two and lost one in their respective round robins””and all but one of those six matches went to three sets””were treading new ground by contesting a semi-final at the World Tour Final.
The first set saw Tsonga take control in a contest where the performance of their serve would be vital. He broke in the sixth game and went on to serve out the set to love, 6-3.
The pace of the their exchanges from the baseline cranked up in the second set with some of the biggest hitting of the entire tournament as they cracked forehands at each other. Despite the pace, they seemed able to pick up the ball and return it with interest.
Both were producing serves in the mid-130s but now Berdych was finding a higher proportion than his opponent, who dropped to just 42 per cent. But that statistic hid the underlying strength of the Tsonga ground-strokes. He lost just one point on his first serve in the second set””three in the match as a whole.
That, and the growing error count from Berdych as he went for outright winners, brought up break points in the seventh game and the Czech double faulted.
But the night before, against David Ferrer, Berdych had also found himself a set and a break down””indeed he had also faced a match point against Janko Tipsarevic in their final set tie-breaker””before turning the match with aggressive serve and volley play. And he looked ready to do the same again, breaking Tsonga back in the eighth.
By this stage, it seemed as though fatigue was starting to play a part: It was fewer than 24 hours since Berdych’s two-hour victory over Ferrer. He was taken to deuce in the ninth game, making two double faults along the way. He survived this time but on his next serve, another double fault, his 25th unforced error of the match, gave Tsonga a second chance and he took it.
The Frenchman finished with a flourish””including a couple of aces and an acrobatic volley off his boot-straps””to take game, set and match, 7-5.
Berdych afterwards confessed that it was not tiredness but illness that had undermined his performance: “This morning, I was feeling weak. I saw the doctor and got some pills for a little bit of fever. But it’s not an excuse. I had an option to go on court or not””I decided to go.”
The Frenchman will now play his biggest match since the Australian Open final almost four years ago. And by a quirk of fate, it will bring him face-to-face for the third Sunday in a row with Roger Federer.
The Swiss beat Tsonga in the final of the Paris Masters two weeks ago and also in the round-robin on the opening day in London. Indeed, they will meet for the eighth time this year. Twice, Tsonga has come out the winner””most famously at Wimbledon where he turned around a two-set deficit in the quarter-finals.
He went on to beat Federer again in Montreal, but has lost their last two matches””most pertinently on Paris’s indoor courts.
Both men are playing well, both enjoy attacking the net and mixing things up with slice and power and touch. Tsonga said: “All the time [it’s] really exciting to play against Roger. It’s going to be really special here, for my first final. It’s going to be an amazing atmosphere I think on the court, and I like that. I’m sure I will respect Roger a lot and play my best tennis.”
It could be a barnstorming finish.