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Rain robs Tsonga and Melzer of result in rollercoaster match

by Alix Ramsay
Monday 23 June 2014

Jurgen Melzer lives to fight another day. Just. And in so, so many different ways.

As the first afternoon of The Championships unfolded, the Austrian had, at first, looked to be on his way home in double-quick time, had then looked to be within touching distance of a place in the second round and had then looked like an extra from the latest episode of Casualty as he faced Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Finally, he just looked relieved as play was suspended due to rain in the gathering gloom of the evening. At that point, Tsonga was 6-1, 3-6, 3-6, 6-2, 5-4 ahead.

As he left the court for the final time on Monday, Melzer was, depending on how you looked at it, either four points away from defeat or still in with a chance of making a fight of it. After all he had been through, anything seemed possible.

From Melzer’s perspective, it is probably better to draw a veil over the first set. A very small veil, mind you: it was a very short set. In just 23 minutes he could barely do a thing right and Tsonga did not put a foot wrong. On paper – and statistics do lie, no matter what the number crunchers say – he did not seem to be playing too badly: 82 percent of first serves landed, just three unforced errors made. But he was taking a pasting and won a measly 16 points. That was just over half the number of points that Tsonga amassed and, as the game show hosts always tell us, points win prizes.

But then, just as the television commentators had given up all hope for the Austrian, everything changed. At the start of the second set, Melzer dug in. For 13 minutes, he clung to his serve like a limpet. Deuce points came, deuce points went. Game points presented themselves, game points disappeared. Ballboys grew up, started shaving and learned how to drive – still Melzer and Tsonga rallied away. Tsonga had two break points; Melzer hung on for dear life.

“If Melzer doesn’t hold here, I really fear for him,” the television expert intoned bleakly. But Melzer did hang on. He held serve and suddenly we had a game on our hands. As Tsonga took his time to work out exactly what had just happened – and berate himself for those two missed break points – the veteran campaigner ran away with the set and did likewise with third. After watching two sets slip away from him, Tsonga took a tactical comfort break – a bit of cold water splashed on the face, a few moments of peace and quiet might clear his head.

It did the trick all right – Tsonga broke and then held to take a 2-0 lead at the start of the fourth set. At which point Melzer made a bolt for the bathroom. Such departures are only really allowed at the end of a set but this was clearly an emergency: the poor man did not have time to explain himself, he just needed to be somewhere else. Brian Earley, one of the Grand Slam supervisors, appeared and told the umpire, Manuel Messina, what was going on while Melzer, when he finally reappeared, was being attended to by the doctor and the trainer. And then five games later, he was off again.

Messina explained that he would have to give the Austrian a warning this time, a time violation, but he was talking to Melzer’s heels – the patient was off and running.

If this had been any other tournament – and Melzer was less of a warrior – it would all have been over by now: a quick shake of the hands, a throwing in of the towel and the rest of the evening spent lying down and feeling queasy. But this is Wimbledon and Melzer knew that before he had felt poorly, he had had the beating of the No.14 seed. If he could just hang in there, he might yet have a chance. Alas for him, Tsonga had other ideas.

Knowing his opponent was struggling, he opened the throttle on his serve and started clattering aces. And the darker it got – by now it was almost 8pm – the harder Tsonga served. Melzer could not get a racket string on most deliveries and dropping his serve to go 2-1 down in the deciding set, he was in deep trouble. As Tsonga kept it simple (hold tight to your serve and cut out the costly errors) he was heading for the second round.

And then it rained.

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