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Out-of-sorts Tsonga does just enough

by Kate Battersby
Thursday 28 June 2012

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga looked almost too tired for his signature
celebration dance following his second-round win over Guillermo
Garcia-Lopez on No.3 Court. For two draining sets
Garcia-Lopez stretched the popular No.5 seed before Tsonga came
through 7-6(3), 6-4, 6-1, 6-3 in two hours and 33 minutes. The
Frenchman said afterwards he was so disappointed in his own attitude
during the match that he apologised to both his opponent and umpire
Steve Ulricht when they shook hands, although few at courtside noticed
anything untoward.

What they did notice was how well Garcia-Lopez served for the first
two sets. According to the ATP Tour media guide, the Spaniard’s
favourite film is Gladiator and he certainly seemed to bring as many
of the fighting qualities to this match as he could. For two sets he
served excellently and with confidence, visibly encouraged by the fact
that Tsonga was making no impression. And Garcia-Lopez had a lot of
game to bring – he may be ranked No.92 now, but as recently as February
last year he was as high as No.23.

At 5-6 he lost his touch briefly, with two unforced errors - some
inventive Tsonga play giving the Frenchman two break points. But a
mistake on the first had Tsonga howling in dismay; and then the
Spaniard had him diving first one way and then the other at the net
before Tsonga was left face down on the turf as the ball went by. So
to the tie-break, which Garcia-Lopez controlled from the start. He
played his favourite shot – a backhand down the line – for 4-1, to his
wild satisfaction. When Garcia-Lopez earned four set points courtesy
of a net cord on his service return, Tsonga drop-kicked his racket,
although he seemed to do it without anger. But he could do nothing to
get back in to the tie-break, and it went to the Spaniard 7-3.

For much of the second set he continued to serve impenetrably, and the
story of this set is told best through the statistics, on which the
two players were largely inseparable on every number save one... while
each of them earned two break points, Tsonga alone converted one of
them, and thus levelled the match. It seemed Garcia-Lopez felt the
blow. He had worked so hard during that set that it was hard indeed
when one flaw cost him so much.

How often do we hear players remark on the pivotal importance of
playing the big points well? It felt very much as if the loss of that
break point cost Garcia-Lopez not only the set but any serious chance
of the match. A two-set deficit would have required a long journey
back for the Frenchman in the hot, blustery conditions on No.3 Court.
Set-all was altogether a different proposition, and as the third set
got underway it seemed immediately apparent that Garcia-Lopez was
demoralised.

His serve, which had previously been such a fortress, deserted him. As
if prompted by the tiny leak of the break point which lost him the
second set, in the third set the tiny leak became a torrent. The set
flashed by with Tsonga taking it 6-1. The match felt as good as done,
although Garcia-Lopez stayed in closer touch during the fourth set. At
3-5 he even produced a touch of showmanship by playing a hotdog
crosscourt passing shot to leave Tsonga stranded at the net, but just
a few points later the match was over.

“I apologised to both of them [Garcia-Lopez and the umpire] as we
shook hands because I had a bad attitude,” said Tsonga afterwards. “I
didn’t feel well today. I was tired and I was going back to my old
antics where I was talking to myself on court for no reason. I wasn’t
proud of that. Losing the first set did me a lot of good because I
knew I had to get back into the match and I put more intensity into my
game instead of talking to myself on court. I’m not happy with the way
I played but I’m happy I won.”


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