Welcome to another installment of LiveAnalysis! Today’s match-up: Roger Federer, who is loved by the French, versus Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who is actually French. As we know, the darling of the Phillipe Chatrier court has cruised through his “difficult” draw without dropping a set or his serve in four matches. Tsonga hasn’t fared much worse: he lost his first set of the tournament just a couple of days ago during his match against countryman Richard Gasquet.
This will be the 12th time Federer faces off against Tsonga. Their head to-head is tilted rather significantly in favor of Tiger Woods’ (ex?) friend: 8-3. They’ve played at Grand Slams three times since 2010, with Federer winning twice in straight sets (one of those a 2-3-2 drubbing at the 2010 Australian Open), and being well on his way to a simple win at Wimbledon in 2011 before Jo came back from a two set deficit to clinch an incredible win – which marks the only time the Frenchman has beaten Federer in a best-of-five setting.
Here are some other quirks from Federer and Tsonga’s joint history on tour:
– Federer and Tsonga played each other eight times in 2011. Read that again. That’s nuts. Federer won six of those matches, though – four of them in straight sets.
– You’d think that Jo and Federer played each other last year. Nope, they did not – but only because Federer withdrew from their scheduled semifinal match in Doha. Due to tennis’ bizarre philosophy that withdrawing from a match before it takes place doesn’t count as a loss, Jo is denied a 4th victory over Federer. I am tempted to rant about this, but I’m sure there will be other opportunities to do so.
– They’ve played seven tiebreakers during their 11 matches, and Jo-Willy has won four of them. I guess this means that there’s a pretty good chance we’ll see a breaker today.
– Tsonga’s comeback at Wimbledon wasn’t the only time he fought back from a big deficit against one of the greatest frontrunners in tennis history: at the 2009 Canada Masters 1000 Tsonga came back from a 1-5 deficit in the third set to win the match in a tiebreaker.
– Tsonga’s comeback at Wimbledon was the first time that Federer had lost a Grand Slam match after being up two sets to love. Unfortunately for him, Federer would suffer the same fate (only worse, given the match points that went awry) a few months later at the US Open, at the hands of eventual champion Novak Djokovic.
– Nine of their 11 meetings have taken place on hard courts, four of them indoors.
Things to Watch For:
1. Has Roger Rasheed managed to recover some of Jo’s self-belief? I ask because of Tsonga’s horrible record against top 10 players last year: even Jerzy Janowicz managed to score more wins against the elite of tennis (to which Jo allegedly belongs) than the 2008 Australian Open runner-up collected in all of 2012. Near the end of the year, Tsonga seemed completely lost in his matches against the top dogs of men’s tennis. A couple of dreadful performances against Djokovic (unfortunately) come to mind. If Jo doesn’t believe he can pull the upset tonight, we will have a very short match on our hands.
2. Can Tsonga make any inroads in Federer’s service games? So far, everybody who’s faced the Swiss has failed pretty comprehensibly, and as I’ve noted during previous LiveAnalysis posts of Federer’s matches, it’s extremely complicated, if not borderline impossible, to beat the four-time Australian Open champion when he’s allowed to get in a groove with his serve.
3. Who can win most of the forehand-to-forehand exchanges? Both men have serious weapons in their right arms, and both will look to attack with that shot more often than not. Federer will be happy to be drawn into this kind of duel – it will be up to Tsonga to cut some of his frequent errors, as well as his trademark impatience, in order to stand a chance in this match.
4. Who can more consistently find the other’s backhand? Federer has had a relatively easy time winning backhand-to-backhand duels, so it won’t be surprising if the Swiss tries to direct some of the traffic in that direction, using both his cross court drive backhand as well as his cross court slice backhand. As we know, Jo-Willy struggles mightly with his two-hander for significant stretches of any match. If Federer can milk some errors from that side, it will help undermine Jo’s wavering confidence.
5. Will Federer look to come to net, putting pressure on Tsonga’s dubious passing shots? This would be a good idea for the Swiss, particularly if he attacks Tsonga’s backhand with his approaches.
6. Can the Rod Laver Arena crowd get behind Tsonga? The Aussies love the Frenchman, but Federer just got introduced to a much louder roar. We know how much Jo can be lifted by a favorable crowd – will Rod Laver Arena help him out at any point of the match?
7. Will Jo-Willy hit a one-handed backhand during this match? Always a fun thing to keep an eye on.
The players are on court! Here is what they look like:
Remember to refresh this page often, as I will be providing game-by-game updates throughout the match!
Jo-Willy just won the coin toss, and seemed to hesitate about whether he wanted to serve or receive. Thankfully for him, he made the right decision.
First Set – Jo-Wilfried Tsonga will serve first
0-0: Worst possible start for Tsonga, who makes a silly forehand error and double faults to fall behind 15-40. He saves one break point with a service winner, but then is forced into an awkward volley that goes wide. Federer breaks to start the match:
Federer barely had to work to get a good chance to break there. And took it. Can Tsonga recover from adversity this early?
Federer has faced 1 break point since the first round. Guess what? He saved it.
— Chris Oddo (@TheFanChild) January 23, 2013
1-0, Federer: Federer holds at love. The Aussie commentators joke that it seems as if Jo didn’t even warm up for the match, while Federer looks as if he’s already played a set of good tennis. Can’t disagree with that statement.
The crowd is already behind Jo – a sign that they are very much aware that if they don’t help raise Tsonga’s level their evening will be quite short?
2-0, Federer: Jo misses a backhand badly, gets caught in no man’s land in a serve-and-volley attempt, but holds to 30 after some decent serving. Before Jo had raced to a 40-0 lead, Federer had had a look at a very comfortable backhand pass that he strangely missed.
2-1, Federer: Jo’s backhand seems to be doing more good than harm early on. A very nice backhand down-the-line brings him to 30-all. Jo then draws a bad backhand error from Federer after a short cross court backhand exchange. Surprising. Break point for Jo, which is erased by a masterful wrongfooting forehand by Federer. Tsonga slips, and then clutches his back. Federer then bizarrely misses a sitter forehand off a bad return by Tsonga. Break point number two. In one of those “Oh, Jo” moments, Tsonga goes for an ill-advised inside-out forehand that never threatens to clear the net. Moments later, Federer holds after some good forehands.
Maybe Federer got a little sloppy there because for once someone returned his serve somewhat decently? Can’t blame him – he’s been holding serve comfortably since the tournament started.
3-1, Federer: Jo had a pretty easy service game, holding to 15. The highlight, however, was that lone point Federer won: the Swiss hit a wonderful forehand down-the-line winner while on the run. Jo never had a chance.
3-2, Federer: Continuing with the sloppiness, Federer botches a volley and then sends a forehand unforced error long to go down 0-30. Still, Jo shows off his trademark impatience, goes for two big forehands, and misses both by a significant margin. At 40-30, Jo comes up with a good forehand approach and a nifty little volley and we’re at deuce. Jo goes for yet another big forehand return winner, and this time he doesn’t miss! He then runs around his backhand and drills a forehand up the middle, forcing Federer’s error. Tsonga breaks!
Federer’s streak of holding serve at the Australian Open ends. I did not expect it to end so quickly, though. Tsonga, who is by no stretch of the imagination a great returner, is doing a great job of getting serves back in play, and getting decent returns off second serves. And he did go for that huge forehand return winner at deuce, which paid off. We have a match!
so much for the federer not getting broken in 2013, tsonga snaps hold streak at 59 #alleztsonga
— Tennis Tweets (@tennistweetscom) January 23, 2013
3-3: Jo makes a couple of errors after going up 40-0, but then puts away an overhead to consolidate the break. The Frenchman seems to have settled down, and isn’t doing anything out of the ordinary: he’s staying in rallies, and trying to wait for chances to attack with his forehand. Yes, he’s lost his mind at some points, but in general, his tactics are sound.
@juanjo_sports umm..With 42% first serves from Roger, even Raonic would look like Djokovic.
— Vishal (@rasika79) January 23, 2013
@juanjo_sports He’s probably extra confused because it’s Tsonga returning his serve, which normally doesn’t happen very much w/ Tsonga.
— Amy Fetherolf (@AmyFetherolf) January 23, 2013
Fair points. But Tsonga is returning serve competently, and most importantly for him, he’s getting a lot of backhand returns in play. Some are even deep! The Aussie commentator claims that Federer’s ball toss is a little off. I have no idea if this is true or not.
4-3, Tsonga: Federer holds to 30, donating a point via a double fault. Apparently, he’s at 44% of first serve percentage. Jo? A gaudy 70%.
4-4: Jo goes on a rampage with his forehand to make it 30-all. Then Federer somehow hits a counter smash that seemed destined to fly long, but Tsonga gets a racquet on and misses the volley. The ensuing break point is saved when Federer goes for an inside-in forehand and nets it. Sloppy, sloppy play from the World No. 2. A service winner and a missed pass by Federer, and Tsonga has escaped a tricky game.
Federer seems to be really struggling to get in any sort of rhythm, be it on serve or with his groundstrokes. The crowd seems to be behind Tsonga, who appears to be quite calm and confident.
5-4, Tsonga: Easy hold for Federer, who holds at love after some iffy play from Tsonga.
About Jo-Willy, the announcers say, “Sometimes that’s the $64,000 question: why did Jo do that?” A gem.
5-5: Federer is finding it increasingly difficult to deal with the pace and depth of Tsonga’s forehand, yet it’s a nice cross court backhand that forces Federer’s error and nets Tsonga a love hold.
6-5, Tsonga: Tsonga gets one great return in play to go up 0-15, but then three pretty mediocre ones, which coupled with an ace, take us to Tiebreak City.
TIEBREAKER – Jo-Wilfried Tsonga will serve first
0-0: We stall a little because Federer appears to hear a radio coming from the PA system. Jaker Garner then gets an overrule right, and Tsonga nets a backhand on the second ball. It had been a very tame and standard backhand slice return by Federer. MINIBREAK.
1-0, Federer: The Swiss yanks Tsonga wide on his forehand side, triggering a wild error.
2-0, Federer: The two play a tame rally, and just as Federer tests Tsonga’s forehand, the Frenchman nets his shot.
3-0, Federer: Federer tries to run around his backhand, doesn’t quite get there, and nets an awkward forehand.
3-1, Federer: Jo comes to net after a cross court forehand approach, and has a simple volley to put away.
3-2, Federer: Rinse and repeat, but for Federer, who has to put away a simple smash on top of the volley.
4-2, Federer: Federer gets an ace via challenge. The ball was less than a millimeter in. Can’t blame the lineswoman.
5-2, Federer: Big ace out wide for Jo.
5-3, Federer: Jo comes up with a huge pass.
5-4, Federer: Federer gets a great serve out wide, and swing volleys Tsonga’s lob reply. Set points for Federer.
6-4, Federer: Jo tries to attack, but after Federer survives a couple of bombs, Tsonga nets a regulation cross court backhand.
First set to Federer, 7-6(4): Here are your first set stats:
In a sloppy set, the difference ended up being two bad backhand unforced errors from Tsonga in the tiebreaker. Not much more to say about that.
Second Set – Roger Federer will serve first
During the changeover between sets, Federer went for the undershirt, a full set earlier than he had done in his previous matches. This time, it’s a black shirt he puts on:
0-0: A very simple hold for Federer. It has to be said that Jo’s returning has been getting worse and worse. Naturally, Federer has something to do with that: the Swiss has been finding more and more first serves. Tsonga won only 20% of those points in the first set.
1-0, Federer: Jo has a simple hold, which would have been to love, had he not missed a simple forehand putaway.
1-1: Jo attacks the net on a very good inside-out forehand approach, and makes it 40-30. But Federer stops him in his tracks with a service winner up the T, and he holds.
Jo has gotten good results when he’s used his forehand to set up simple volleys, particularly when approaching to Federer’s backhand. Not a bad strategy at all, but now the main issue has become the return of serve: Tsonga hasn’t created a break point since the game in which he broke Federer midway through the first set.
You know what would be great? Not being updated on Fed’s undershirt.
— Lindsay Gibbs (@linzsports) January 23, 2013
2-1, Federer: Tsonga holds to love after some good serves and a shanktastic backhand by Federer. Very easy game for Jo.
2-2: Tsonga gets a couple of opportunities to make a dent in this particular Federer service game, but he botches a regulation backhand, and then misses wildly on a cross court forehand after Federer had somehow tracked a down-the-line missile from the Frenchman.
That game illustrated why Jo has found it difficult put any more pressure on Federer’s service games since the first set break: it’s not so much the returns, which have been decent: it’s the unforced errors AFTER the returns that are giving Jo problems and making life easier for Federer.
3-2, Federer: Jo holds in just 45 seconds. There were some very good first serves involved. Now, can he translate this momentum into Federer’s service game?
3-3: Maybe Jo can! Federer’s regulation forehand clips the letcord, but falls on his own side of the net for 15-30. Previously, Jo had blasted an inside-out forehand right past Federer. Yet here comes the backhand unforced error. He screams in agony after the miss. However, Federer’ forehand again finds the letcord, and this time it floats long. A break point for Jo! It’s been a while. Jo goes for a big forehand midway through a tense rally, but after Federer survives, the Swiss sends a forehand well wide. He was not looking to attack there. Break for Jo-Willy!
Kudos to Jo for riding the momentum of his 45 second hold into a break in the next game. Federer was unlucky in that game, as regulation forehands clipped the net and landed in unfavorable spots for him. This is a game of inches, no?
4-3, Tsonga: Jo scrambles to get to a 40-0 lead, and then a service winner consolidates the break. He’s really serving well at the moment.
Roger Federer has only won one point off of Jo-Willy’s serve in this set. A solitary point. That’s a very troubling piece of information for Federer.
5-3, Tsonga: Jo seems poised to force a 15-40 situation, but he can’t handle a backhand slice from Federer. 30-all. Moments later, Federer holds without further trouble.
Jo has been dominating on serve so far in this set. But it will mean little if he can’t find a way to serve out this set. He’s serving at a fantastic 76% first serves.
5-4, Tsonga: Ace to start for Jo, in what the commentators say was his fastest of the match. A perfect start. Jo then hits a wonderful volley, and Federer misses a very difficult looping forehand pass. 30-0. Federer manages to get Tsonga in an exchange where the Swiss is pummeling inside-out forehands into Tsonga’s backhand, but it’s Federer who comes up with the unforced error. Triple set point. The first one is saved by a Federer approach that forces Tsonga’s error. But a service winner seals the set for Jo-Willy.
Second Set to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga: 6-4 Here are your second set stats:
That set was not as close as the scoreline suggests. Federer won all of two points on Tsonga’s service games, and created zero chances to break. The Swiss seems subdued, even though he’s righted the ship of his first serve percentage. Federer keeps finding it difficult to turn defense into offense – Jo’s shots have not been lacking pace or depth in this set.
It’s nice to see a confident Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. We haven’t seen him carry himself out there like this in a while.
Third Set – Roger Federer will serve first
0-0: Federer has a much needed easy hold after some very sloppy play by Tsonga. Not the greatest use of momentum there, Jo.
Jo making clean contact at the end of the ins, especially on the backhand. Ominous? Or are we looking at something like last night?
— Steve Tignor (@SteveTignor) January 23, 2013
Not a good omen for Jo if we are.
1-0, Federer: At 15-30, Federer works a ton to get a bunch of great Tsonga shots back in play, but Jo is undeterred: he fires a cross court forehand winner to level the game at 30-all. That was a fun point. But Federer does a little bit of chip and charge, and puts away a smash for his first break point in what seems like ages. Tsonga chooses to approach the net after a slice backhand return by Federer, and nets a volley from a slightly awkward position. Break for Federer!
Jo will regret that opening game. He was down 15-30 because of very silly unforced errors, and the decision to approach the net with a forehand after a Federer slice was dubious at best. Any and all momentum gained by that impeccable second set has disappeared.
In other words, this is your average Jo-Willy Tsonga match.
2-0, Federer: Jo stops play at 30-all after a Federer forehand that seemed in. The challenge is proven correct, and Jo has a chance to regain the break. Which he does, after Federer hurriedly sends a second ball forehand wide. Break for Tsonga.
That was terrible shot selection by Federer down break point. Tsonga’s return had actually gotten some deceptive depth via the spin Jo put on it, and Federer tried to go for a very, very difficult inside-in forehand winner while moving backwards and jumping in the air. It was like one of those terrible Kobe threes from way behind the baseline and with three people on him.
2-1, Federer: A service winner makes it 30-all for Jo. What will he do next? Just hit a good second serve, since Federer sent the return well long. Jo then comes up with a comically bad approach to Federer’s backhand. It’s so bad that Federer has time to run around it and pass Jo comfortably with an inside-out forehand. Jo rights the ship with a monumental inside-in forehand winner that landed smack on the line. AD-Jo. You know what isn’t funny? A tame backhand unforced error from Federer, which is followed by a similar mistake from Jo. Deuce again. Tsonga comes up with a wild, WILD forehand unforced error. He misses by about two nautical miles from a comfortable position. Break point Federer. However, Jo then hits a second ball cross court forehand winner into the sideline. Deuce. Ace, AD-Jo. Federer has a look at an open deuce court after Jo-Willy went for a huge inside-in forehand with Federer in position to reply, but the Swiss sends his forehand wide, and Jo consolidates the break.
Tsonga is everything Del Potro was supposed to be this tournament. and Del Potro was everything Tsonga was supposed to be this tournament.
— Ricky Dimon (@RD_Tennistalk) January 23, 2013
2-2: Federer holds at love after more patchy play from Jo, who seems undecided whether he should get out of his own way or not. The match seems there for his taking, particularly after recovering that early break.
3-2, Federer: Jo’s forehand gets in a hot streak, and he holds to 15. Federer can’t seem to find a way to get back in points after one of those huge missiles is sent his way.
3-3: Federer holds at love, with Jo seemingly unable to get any good returns in play. Not the greatest pattern for the Frenchman, since we’re no longer in the second set, where Jo found it extremely easy to hold serve.
BG: “Points with 10 shots or more favor Federer.” Onscreen graphic: pts won with > 10 shots: Fed: 1, Tsonga: 9.
— Amy Fetherolf (@AmyFetherolf) January 23, 2013
That’s a troubling stat for Federer that illustrates the difficulties he’s having during the rallies when Jo goes on the offensive.
4-3, Federer: Tsonga with a love hold. Seemingly out of nowhere. I’m surprised.
4-4 Federer holds easily to 15 after Jo can’t handle his serves or his approaches.
As I mentioned in the Things to Look For, it might not be a bad idea for Federer to keep coming to net. So far he’s won 77% of points in the near court. Why not make that his primary strategy? Jo has proven that he can’t hit decent passing shots consistently. Plus, if Federer’s back is bothering him, shortening the points would help his cause. And lest we forget, Federer isn’t winning the long exchanges, either.
5-4, Federer: Three first serves for Jo, three points. A second serve is then wildly shanked off the backhand by Federer. An easy love hold.
Was that a haiku?
5-5: Tsonga smartly forces Federer’s error with a beautiful backhand down-the-line slice, and then Federer wildly misses a sitter forehand. However, the Swiss then hits a beautiful backhand down-the-line winner, and then Jo attempts a very bizarre backhand slice passing shot. It doesn’t clear the net, and we’re at 30-all. A backhand return miss, and it’s 40-30. A hold is achieved after Federer forces Tsonga’s error with a good backhand down-the-line. Bold by Federer, but that game was an opportunity missed by Jo.
6-5, Federer: Federer gets an extremely lucky framed return back in play with a wicked angle, and Jo can’t handle it: 15-30. Jo had previously sent a routine forehand into the net. 30-all after a HUGE inside-out forehand. Federer challenges a forehand that was called long, and it is. Bad error from Federer in a rally in which he seemed to have the upper hand. He did not seem pleased afterwards. Service winner seals the game. Tiebreak City!
TIEBREAKER – Roger Federer will serve first
0-0: Wide service winner. Such a smart play by Federer, and such a perfect first serve. Money almost every single time.
1-0, Federer: Second ball forehand winner from Tsonga after a short reply by Federer.
1-1: Federer leaves a short slice return for Tsonga to hit an approach on, and Jo badly misshandles a seemingly simple backhand volley. MINIBREAK.
2-1, Federer: An even worse error from Federer, who sends a swinging volley into the net. From about 1 foot from the net. MINIBREAK.
2-2: A short return is punished inside-out by Federer’s forehand.
3-2, Federer: Service winner for Jo.
3-3: Federer gets lucky again with a return that barely crosses the net, and then nails the forehand passing shot after a very decent slice approach by Jo. MINIBREAK.
4-3, Federer: A simple forehand is put away by Federer after a short Jo return.
5-3, Federer: Jo gets a great backhand return down-the-line in play, then puts away a simple volley. MINIBREAK.
5-4, Federer: Federer challenges an ace, is proven correct, and then Tsonga has an absolute brainfart, going for an inside-out forehand even though he doesn’t put any pace on it, and Federer is firmly entrenched in his backhand corner. Surprise, surprise, Federer hits a simple backhand down-the-line for a clean winner. MINIBREAK.
The tiebreak is lost here. What a horrible shot by Tsonga, at the worst possible time. In other words, classic Jo!
6-4, Federer: Federer draws Tsonga in again, and Tsonga misplaces another volley. MINIBREAK.
Set for Federer, 7-6(4): Here are your third set stats:
In a way, that set resembled the third set much better than the first set tiebreaker resembled the first set. Federer is fighting like a madman, and he took full advantage of some vintage Jo Being Jo moments. Also, Federer is using that short slice to great avail, since Tsonga has botched his fair share of volleys. A good idea to diffuse Tsonga’s power.
Fourth Set – Jo-Wilfried Tsonga will serve first
0-0: Jo holds to love. To say that was sorely needed would be an understatement.
Hah. RT @pseudofed: I think it’s raining. Mr Umpire, do you see the spots of rain? Hope this doesn’t turn into a typhoon like in Shanghai 🙁
— Andrew Burton (@burtonad) January 23, 2013
1-0, Tsonga: A simple hold to 15 for Federer. This is how you ride momentum, Jo.
1-1: Federer draws Tsonga in twice from 0-15 on, and Tsonga botches two volleys. 0-40 in about a minute. The first break point is somehow saved when Jo turns the tables on Federer and brings him into the net. The second break point is saved by a good forehand approach. A third break point is saved by an ace up the T. Jo gets a good look at a forehand after a short return by Federer, but the Swiss gets a masterful cross court forehand in that Jo can’t deal with. In the next point, Jo does Crazy Jo things: Federer gets a deep return in, yet Tsonga jumps in the air and fires a forehand down-the-line rocket. That was a low percentage shot, to say the least. But it works. Federer misses a return long, and Jo has a chance to hold. Ace out wide seals it.
Mark that game down. It seemed like Federer’s tactic of drawing Tsonga in with his slice was about to completely turn the match in his favor, when Jo found a good response, and then let his serve and his forehand do the talking. Huge, huge game. Had Tsonga gotten broken there, you could have written “Game over” about this match.
2-1, Tsonga: Tsonga goes on a rampage, firing a cross court forehand return winner for 15-30, and then a devastating backhand down-the-line. Federer struggling to get first serves in. Jo slips a bit during the first break point, and that’s enough for Federer to take advantage with his forehand. Tsonga seems to slip again, but the damage is done by a silly attempt at a backhand slice. Service winner gives him a chance to hold, and the game is clinched by a backhand unforced error by Jo.
Same observation from the previous game applies to this Federer service game. Huge for Federer, and two opportunities missed by Tsonga, who seemed to slip on both break points. Djokovic slipped all over the place the other day during his match against Wawrinka. In related news, Djokovic and Tsonga wear adidas shoes (though not the same model).
2-2: A long rally ends when Tsonga goes for a big backhand down-the-line, clinching a hold to 15. That was a pretty point, with both men personifying the concept of controlled aggression to a T.
— Andrew Palm (@apalm_13) January 23, 2013
Yep – in that first break point of the Federer service game the Lindt man had to go to Jo’s backhand from the deuce court. A wise call.
3-2, Tsonga: A seemingly uneventful service game gets interesting when Tsonga gets a deep return to Federer’s feet and draws the error. Soon, we’re at deuce after Federer misses a running forehand wide. A service winner gives the Swiss the edge, but then Tsonga hits an irrational forehand down-the-line winner that had very little chance of going in. Then Federer misses another cross court running forehand wide, and Tsonga has a break point, which is converted when Tsonga just blasts Federer’s backhand with both backhands and forehands hit straight at it. Tsonga with the break.
Federer has missed an significant number of running forehands when pulled wide. Yes, Tsonga is being very aggressive when he attacks that side, but Federer usually gets those at least in play. The good news for the four-time Australian Open champion? Tsonga hasn’t noticed the pattern yet.
4-2, Tsonga: Two errant forehands drop Tsonga in a 15-40 hole. It’s as if the Frenchman is allergic to momentum. First break point is saved by a thundering service winner up the T. The second is not, after a sad backhand slice that was never going over the net. Federer breaks back
If Tsonga loses this set, you can pretty much single this last game out as the reason why. Jo had all the momentum, and played an extremely silly service game, with three unforced errors. Again, classic Jo.
4-3, Tsonga: Jo manages to hit three decent passing shots, and he has another break point. Which he gets, after attacking with that backhand, first down-the-line and then cross court, and hitting a beautiful backhand volley. Break for Tsonga
Tsonga’s backhand won that game. Which is really bizarre to type.
5-3, Tsonga: Service winner gets us started, but that is followed by an ill-advised, and wildly missed second ball forehand. Federer then shows off his own forehand, with an unexpected inside-out backhand winner. 15-30. Federer has a great chance to attack Tsonga after the Frenchman gets completely out of position, but frames the approach, and then gets passed. 30-all. A violent rally in which Jo hits an incredible forehand down-the-line that is survived by Federer ends when the Swiss misses the simplest backhand of the entire rally. Unforced error, and set point. Jo takes the set with an ace out wide. We’re going five!
Second set to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, 6-3: Here are your fourth set stats:
My lasting impression of that last set was that if Jo stays out of his way and remains aggressive, he has a real chance to pull the upset. When Jo has gotten going, Federer has found it extremely difficult to get back in points.
Fifth set – Roger Federer will serve first
0-0: Federer with a very clean love hold to start the proceedings. He used that nice slider out wide from the deuce court at one point – a surefire way to win a point.
1-0, Federer: Jo gets in a 15-30 hole, but serves himself out of trouble. That is, until he badly mishits a backhand. Deuce. Jo uses his own version of the slider out wide from the deuce court, and he has a chance to hold. An ace out wide seals it.
Jo knows that if he gets first serves in, he has a great chance to win easy points. He’s serving 67% first serves, which is a great number, and winning 78% of those points.
1-1: Federer holds at love again. This is starting to resemble the third set. Jo needs to understand that he can’t relax – the margin of error is extremely small. In stark contrast, Federer has come out very sharp. There’s a reason he’s achieved so much in his carer.
2-1, Federer: Federer attacks with his forehand, and then Jo misses a regulation backhand. Result? 0-30. Federer is not missing anymore, and Jo seems to be taking this just a little too casually. As I type this, Jo sends a backhand long, challenges, and still loses the point. It was over a foot long. 15-40. A backhand unforced error when trying to go down-the-line gives Federer the break
Jo is not moving forward when hitting his backhand, and that lack of commitment hurt him dearly in that last game. That’s the true mark of an iffy shot: that it breaks down badly shortly after a patch of above-average play.
No matter what I have high hopes for Jo this year. Last year his best victory (ranking wise) was over No. 12 Mardy Fish at Wimbledon.
— Lindsay Gibbs (@linzsports) January 23, 2013
3-1, Federer: Two overheads and a swinging volley give Federer a 40-15 edge. That just shows you how aggressive he’s being. He botches a volley, but then puts away a backhand to consolidate the break.
4-1, Federer: Federer gets incredibly lucky with a short slice that clips the net and dies just a few inches away from it. 15-40. Federer somehow misses a simple swinging volley, and then Tsonga puts away a forehand for deuce. A huge forehand down-the-line (62nd winner of the match) gives him a chance to hold. A bad forehand unforced error by Federer lets Tsonga escape.
Will Federer regret that swinging volley at 15-40? The game seemed to be completely in his hands at that point.
4-2, Federer: At 0-15, Tsonga is in complete control of the rally, firing away. He then decides to go for a dropper. Federer hits a simple forehand past him. Such awful shot selection. Jo then comes up with his customary backhand unforced error, and then Federer puts away a couple of good volleys to clinch the game.
5-2, Federer: A couple of errant forehands by Tsonga make it 15-40, double match point. The first is saved by a service winner. The second, too, with the added shine that it came from a huge second serve. Deuce. Jo hits an insane reverse smash, but Federer wins the point anyway, and has a third match point. It’s saved (barely) by a lunging volley. BARELY. It comes after Jo hit a drop shot. Federer misses a running forehand, and Jo has a chance to hold. Which is wasted on a terrible backhand put-away attempt. Jo had the entire deuce court – Federer wasn’t even moving in that direction. Jo missed by about five feet. A huge forehand forces Federer’s error, and it’s AD-Jo. Deuce after a great backhand down-the-line by Federer. A fourth match point will come, since Jo decides to once again dump a slice backhand into the net. Federer then misses a regulation backhand cross court, sending it tamely into the net. Four match points have come and gone. An ace out wide by Jo gives him game point again. Service winner, and Federer will have to serve out this match. Four match points. Gone.
5-3, Federer: 0-15 after some thunderous Jo forehands. Jo then has a pretty clean look at a pass, but his attempt is going straight into the doubles alley, had it not been stopped by the net. Jo then comes out of nowhere with a great cross court backhand that forces Federer’s error, and it’s 15-30. Service winner out wide, and it’s 30-all. Match point number five after another backhand down-the-line confounds Tsonga, and then Federer seals the win with an overhead smash.
Game, Set and Match to Roger Federer, 7-6(4), 4-6, 7-6(4), 3-6, 6-3
Here are your fifth set stats:
Here is what the pair looked like when they met at net after their lengthy tussle:
Roger Federer made his 31 years and 1000+ matches count tonight. Why? Because he managed to be sharp exactly at the right times. Federer was up a break in three of the five sets, and he kept his cool in both tiebreaks. Of course, there’s no switch one can simply flip to be “sharp” – it’s more a question of being able to focus enough so that no distractions disrupt your game, but also of being able to play the big points without being tight. This apparently paradoxical concept is what tennis players learn through years and years of playing big matches, and in Federer’s case, there’s no shortage of learning opportunities throughout his heralded career.
Before we go any further, let’s make one thing clear: Federer looked like the likely loser for large chunks of the match – particularly after dropping the fourth set. The Swiss was being overpowered by Tsonga, and battled with his own inconsistencies off his forehand and backhand. Federer’s biggest problem seemed to be finding ways to keep Tsonga from pushing him into such extreme defensive positions from which he couldn’t re-insert himself in the point. At times the four-time Australian Open champion was able to use his short backhand slice to reel Jo into the net, where he was frequently easy pickings. Federer also tried to be aggressive with his own forehand, and near the end of the match he found another pattern that helped him: Jo-Willy seemed completely unable to anticipate Federer’s backhand down-the-line.
The point I want to make is fairly simple: Federer tried his best to troubleshoot the many difficulties that Tsonga was presenting him with during the match. He did a great job. Yet, I fully believe this match was won by Federer’s ability to keep his game clean at the start of sets and throughout the tiebreaks. Had Jo been able to get his act together in this same fashion, he not only would’ve won the match – it wouldn’t even have taken five sets to do so.
If a young prospect comes out flat at the start of a big match, it’s understandable. If that young prospect makes silly unforced errors at key moments, it’s worrying, but understandable. If the teen plays a few loose games right after playing great tennis to win a set and tie the match, you understand.
But what is there to do when the person making all these mental mistakes is a guy who made a Slam final five years ago, who has won a Masters 1000 along with eight other titles, and who will turn 28 years old in 2013?
For the life of me I don’t understand how Jo-Willy Tsonga’s mind works. And I’m not the only one. He did all those things I listed above, and more. The worst one? Jo’s demeanor at the start of the decider. The Frenchman had won the fourth set in buccaneering fashion, overpowering Federer with both his forehand and his backhand, looking like the stronger, better player. Yet Jo came out in the fifth set and played two straight loose return games (both were love holds for Federer), and eventually got broken in only his second service game. I was joking on Twitter that maybe Jo thought this match was best of seven instead of best of five. After all, he had done this exact same thing at the start of the third set, and played a pretty terrible tiebreaker in that same stanza. It’s simply remarkable to see how so many aspects of his game fall apart when Jo loses his focus: he stops committing to his backhand, he makes terrible shot selections, and is capable of the most inexplicable mistakes. The inside-out forehand Jo hit at 4-5 in the third set tiebreaker has to be the dumbest shot I’ve seen all tournament – Jo ran around his backhand to blast a missile past Federer (who was firmly entrenched on the Ad side of the court). Jo had no open space to direct his forehand to, unless he hit it so hard that Federer couldn’t muster a reply. Turns out, Jo didn’t hit it hard at all, and left his entire deuce court wide open for Federer to drive a simple backhand winner into. Which he did, and won the set one point later.
That was a shocking moment for someone who’s played over 350 pro matches and who’s beaten every single member of the Big Four at least once, along with his other accomplishments listed above. It was something a reckless junior would do, not a permanent fixture of the top 10 and former Australian Open finalist.
How does this change? I have no idea, but fortunately, that’s Roger Rasheed’s problem and not mine. At least tonight we saw a lot of the Jo-Willy that first captured the imagination of countless tennis fans. The problem was, we also saw the same old inconsistencies and mental breakdowns of that old Jo-Willy. In other words, we were back to the status quo of a few years ago.
Here’s hoping that Rasheed drills it into Jo that all he needed to win today’s match was some focus at the right times. He needed to keep the foot on the gas pedal and not let go – the underdog can’t afford to relax and let the favorite get back into the match quite as easily as Jo did today. There’s already progress on that backhand side, particularly on the return of serve (something that even Federer noticed), which had been a problem for Jo in the past. Still, I hope he realizes that unless he keeps his concentration, the rewards for work well done vanish into thin air. Jo got broken in the fifth set after a rash of errors from that same backhand side that essentially won him the previous set.
I say I hope Rasheed has a plan, because Jo Willy clearly has no idea:
Q. You played Djokovic very close at Roland Garros and Federer very close here. What do you think makes that little bit of difference between someone like you and the top four?
JO WILFRIED TSONGA: To be honest, I have no idea. You know, if you have some advice for me, I will take them because I don’t know. I don’t know what is the difference.
I’m just working hard. I do my best. I mean, that’s it. Maybe I’m less talented for the moment. That’s it.
Again, I hope Rasheed has a strategy to get inside Jo’s head and make him understand how to play his seemingly reckless game with the right focus throughout an entire match to avoid defeats like today’s. Because tennis is fun when Jo is dancing around the baseline, hitting crazy shots. Yet we already knew Jo as a great entertainer. But at 27, it’s time to be more than that: it’s time to be a winner.