Paris Masters 2011: Federer beats Tsonga to first title
Roger Federer wins his first Paris Masters title after beating Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 6-1 7-6 (7-3) in the final
When it comes to Roger Federer, the numbers continue to confound.
In Basel last week he clocked up more than 50 match wins for the 10th straight year and five titles in at least five different tournaments.
In Paris this week, he became the seventh man in the Open era to exceed 800 match-wins and reached the final of the BNP Paribas Masters for the first time””his 99th tour final and 30th Masters final.
Now, in what had been shaping up to be his leanest title haul in 11 years, he has won back-to-back titles and become the only man apart from Andre Agassi to win both Paris tournaments””the French Open and Paris Bercy. In winning his 18th Masters, he does however overtake Agassi in the record-books. Only Nadal has more Masters titles: 19.
For the Parisians, too, it was as close to a dream final as they could wish for. With every appearance this year, Federer received the kind of rapturous welcome reserved for the French players themselves.
And amongst their home contingent, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga comes closer than any to the joie de vivre of the Paris crowd. He also happens to be the only active French player to have won this event””his only Masters title.
Both Tsonga and his supporters had every reason to believe he could win it again, too.
Just like Federer, he had reached four finals and won two titles in 2011″”and both wins came indoors this autumn. He had already played Federer five times in 2011, scoring a famous five-set victory at Wimbledon and then a three-set win at the Montreal Masters.
Most significantly of all, during the Paris tournament, Tsonga had passed the 50-match-win mark for the first time since 2008, qualified for the season-ending championships for the first time since 2008 and risen to his highest ranking””No6″”since winning here in 2008.
What Federer had, however, was confidence in both his fitness and his freshness after taking a six-week autumn break. He also had a win, in the semi-finals, over another big man who had beaten him Wimbledon””in 2010″”and at the other August Masters, Tomas Berdych.
The Czech man, playing some of his best tennis of the year, put out the warning to Tsonga: “I’m pretty confident to say that that’s the old Roger.”
In the event, the quality of the tennis rarely matched the standard of either man’s semi-finals. Both looked too tense to play with the same freedom that had produced three winners to every error from Federer against Berdych and had won 84 per cent of first-serve points for Tsonga against John Isner.
Tsonga made what looked like an early tactical coup by putting Federer into serve first and gained two break points. But his opponent was not yet nervous enough to falter at the first hurdle and came off the better in some vicious forehand exchanges.
Had Tsonga challenged the “˜out’ call on one of those forehands at game point, he would have got another bite at the cherry. As it was, Federer held and then battered the Tsonga serve to get the first break.
In the blink of an eye, Federer ran to a 5-0 lead, pouncing on every second-serve opportunity and finding an ever-improving rhythm on his own serve. The Frenchman finally got on the scoreboard with a love service game but Federer served out the set, 6-1.
And that is when the nerves really kicked in. Federer, with one hand reaching for the elusive Paris trophy, tightened with each successive service game.
While Tsonga started to hit his marks with greater power, Federer began to miss his first serve. He came under pressure in the fourth game when a cross-court forehand from Tsonga passed a net-rushing Federer to bring up break point. But although the Frenchman was offered another second serve, he leapt on it with too much gusto and the ball flew out.
Tsonga held his own serve with ease””losing just one point in his next two service games””and again Federer faced a break point in the eighth game. Tsonga fired what looked like an outright winner, the scoreboard changed to 5-3 in his favour, but a call had been made. The ball was long and, after two more deuces, the scoreboard switched to 4-4.
Against the run of play, and with the finishing post in sight, Federer also earned a break point with perhaps the shot of tournament””a retrieved lob, hit blind, for a backhand cross-court winner. Tsonga saved the game but the writing was on the wall. With new balls giving Federer a little extra zip, he played his most assertive service game of the set, to love, and repeated to level at 6-6.
The errors now disappeared on the Federer side and an ace took him to a 5-1 lead. Despite Tsonga holding his two service points, the Swiss sealed the tie-break, 7-3, and victory was achieved without dropping a set through the entire tournament.
It is just days until Federer begins his defence of the season-ending finale in London and, with consecutive wins over two of the men in the draw””Tsonga and Berdych””he will be full of confidence. His main rivals, however, are unknown quantities.
Novak Djokovic withdrew from Paris with shoulder inflammation after two matches and Rafael Nadal, showing signs of wear and tear in the Asian swing, did not take part. The other big threat, Andy Murray, may have lost out to Berdych this week but he is possibly the form player of the moment, scoring three back-to-back titles.
But should Federer win his sixth end-of-year title in London, he would break yet another record: Nobody has won more than five. It would be a neat way to top off what could become his 100th final.