A Frenchman and an American serving one another into oblivion as the sun sets over the All England Club; it all sounds a little too familiar, doesn’t it? Yet here we are again, trading John Isner and Nicolas Mahut for Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Sam Querrey. The duo will resume their second-round showdown on Thursday after play was suspended with proceedings all square at 9.21pm and the score teetering at 4-6, 7-6(2), 6-7(4), 6-3, 9-9. Some matches are destined to go the distance.
After Querrey’s runs to the quarters at Queen’s and semi-finals in Eastbourne, Tsonga, the No.14 seed, would have anticipated a stern examination. Both men returned on Tuesday to book their spots in the second round after play was suspended for rain on Monday. After three hours 22 minutes of play on Wednesday, a fourth consecutive day beckons.
Tsonga, whose world ranking is at a three-year low of No.17, and Querrey, whose ranking topped out at the same figure in 2011, were all but inseparable on No.2 Court. Ace for ace, winner for winner, they had managed a solitary break apiece by the time the match entered extra innings.
The American got off to a flying start, breaking the No.14 seed in the first game with a missile-like forehand that skidded through the tramline. Tsonga, who had opened with two double faults, was more circumspect in the early exchanges, probing at the American’s backhand, running him from corner to corner and throwing in a couple of shorter balls to see how Querrey responded. The strategy worked well on serve, but Querrey’s constant barrage of 120mph-plus deliveries denied the Frenchman an opportunity to recover the deficit.
Tsonga invited more trouble at 4-4 in the second set when a loose forehand handed Querrey a second opportunity to break. The Frenchman survived with a service winner and went on to hold, though not before leaving an easy volley only to see Querrey’s floating backhand drop inside the baseline. The Frenchman’s frustration was palpable, but he found an outlet in the ensuing tie-break, bullying Querrey with a series of drilled forehands.
The world No.67 did well to prevent Tsonga from running away with the third set, saving break points at 1-1, 2-2, and 3-3. The No.14 seed was finally in full flow, dancing around his backhand wing to unleash whipped and driven forehands at every opportunity – and yet, with Querrey forced onto the back foot, all too often Tsonga snatched wildly at his chance. A second tie-break followed, and this time Querrey got the jump on Tsonga, bulleting a return at the onrushing Frenchman’s feet for a 4-2 lead. Tsonga saved the first set point after opening up the court, but swung out at a midcourt forehand that sailed wide moments later.
At last, in the fourth, Tsonga began playing like a two-time Wimbledon semi-finalist. Having held Querrey at bay in the opening game he moved through the gears to break for a 3-1 lead that carried the match to its near-inevitable conclusion.
Querrey has played a five-set match at his last four appearances at The Championships, but could not match Tsonga’s long-distance record. The Frenchman claimed the 10th five-set victory of his career against Jurgen Melzer in the first round, his third at The Championships, a record that also includes the recovery from two sets down against Roger Federer in 2011.
There was nothing to separate the duo for 11 games of the final set, before Querrey produced a moment of magic to reach match point, haring after a drop volley before steering his forehand across Tsonga. Fans of the Frenchman must have had their hearts in their mouths when he produced a second drop volley, but this time he was in place to dispatch Querrey’s scrambled return, and levelled the decider at 6-6.
The umpire announced the suspension of play at 8-8, but both the players and the crowd refused to budge. New balls were called for, and Tsonga attempted to finish the job before the ball disappeared in the twilight. He came close, bringing up break point, but Querrey stood firm, forcing a forehand error before serving his way out of trouble. The Frenchman also negotiated a dicey service game, which seemed enough to convince both player the time was right to call it a night.
20:08It brings me no pleasure but it's time to bring the curtain down for another year. Seemed somehow appropriate to leave the last word to Roger Federer. Thanks a billion for reading. What a fortnight, what a final, fast forward to 2015 please...
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