Wednesday 26 June 2013
Andy Murray’s prospects of significant progress towards his first Wimbledon title at the 2013 Championships received a huge boost when the sixth-seeded Jo-Wilfried Tsonga was forced to retire at the end of the third set of his second round match against Latvia’s Ernests Gulbis, when he was losing 3-6 6-3 6-3.
Tsonga, a prospective quarter-final opponent for Murray, was another victim of the spate of injuries which have suddenly beset The Championships, calling for treatment to a left knee tendon after conceding three successive games to drop the second set after looking comfortably in control of proceedings.
Afterwards Tsonga, a semi-finalist at the 2012 Championships, explained that the tendon problem surfaced “five, six days ago,” and added, “This was not really a good sign because I had already had some problems with this tendon. I know when it’s going worse like this and it is not good for me to play on because I know I will do more damage.”
And, as he pointed out, “I had no chance to beat a guy like this without legs.”
Yet for a set and a half Tsonga had seemed on cruise control. He wrapped up the first set in 33 minutes against an opponent he had beaten in their three previous meetings – though the last one was four years ago.
Then at 3-3 in the second set Tsonga’s movement began to slow. He dropped serve, saw Gulbis move 5-3 ahead with a love service game and then was broken again after committing a basic gaffe, which could have had nothing to do with his knee problems.
After a rousing rally Gulbis slipped and with the court wide open and his opponent at his mercy Tsonga elected to pat the ball back gently towards Gulbis, who regained his feet and gratefully smacked a winner to reach set point. The shocked Tsonga then drove a backhand volley out of court and the match was suddenly level.
Having called for the trainer, Tsonga was heard to say that he could not play on but after treatment he opted to do so. However, he was simply not the dashing, pirouetting favourite of Centre Court any longer and from 2-2 in the third set the energetic Gulbis, bidding to reach Wimbledon’s third round for the first time, ran away with the match.
There was a smattering of slow handclapping from spectators who did not realise the extent of the Frenchman’s injury as he dropped serve to fall 2-4 behind and it was in a subdued atmosphere that Gulbis comfortably captured the third set, at the end of which Tsonga sat with his head covered by a towel before moving towards his opponent, shaking hands and retiring.
But, being Tsonga, he did manage a smile as he exited Centre Court.
Asked why so many players are suffering injury, Tsonga offered the opinion that it is due to the weather. “The weather is not good to play tennis because it’s cold outside. And for all the joints, that’s not really good. At Roland Garros, for example, it’s getting worse and worse every year, colder and colder. So it’s not only about Wimbledon. Also, we play a lot.
“We need some time to rest after tournaments because they all follow [so quickly]. If you play every day for nine months, for sure you will get injured. It’s tough for me because on my ranking I have to play almost every week if I want to keep my ranking high.”
Gulbis shared Tsonga’s opinion about the length of the tennis season. “The schedule is really tough. People also don’t understand that five-set matches are something very special. Mentally, physically they take a lot out of you. If you play far in the tournaments like Victoria Azarenka does, like Rafa Nadal does, it’s tough to recover. You need more time in between. You need to make the season shorter.”
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