U.S. Open: Tsonga d. Fish
NEW YORK—I'm going to leave the deeper analysis of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga's 6-4, 6-7 (5), 3-6, 6-4, 6-2 win to the capable hands of Andrew Friedman, who watched this match with seven-time Grand Slam champion Mats Wilander. (Look for their insight later tonight.) I instead offer two takeaways, one about each combatant:
—I was wrong about Mardy Fish being unable to repeat his superb summer of 2010 this season, and perhaps I'll be wrong again here. But I think we've seen the best we're going to get from the American. This was a devastating loss; Fish's despondent air in the blowout fifth set—after leading by two sets to one and seemingly having Tsonga on the ropes—confirmed it. Early on, after apparently feeling that Tsonga's box was chirping too loudly, Fish griped about it during a changeover. One of his golden lines, directed toward the umpire: "I don't speak French, dumbass."
Consider this: Fish has played 10 summer hard-court tournaments over the last two years and reached the semifinals (or better) in seven of them. Two of the three he didn't? The 2010 and 2011 U.S. Opens, both round-of-16 exits. Tsonga was one of the tougher fourth-round draws, there is no doubt, but that stat is difficult to overlook. In theory and practice, the best-of-five-set format at the majors truly determines who the best players are. Fish earned his No. 8 seed with his strong results throughout North America, but he was caught when it counted most for a second time. I'll be even more impressed with Fish if he can scale these heights again in 2012.
—We've seen a lot of Tsonga this summer, from his two wins over Roger Federer to today's comeback to various other breathtaking performances. One of them came in the previous round, against Fernando Verdasco on the Grandstand. Played well into the evening, Tsonga handled the raucous atmosphere masterfully, letting his loud play do the talking and saving his emotion until his traditional victory leap at the end. He's a strong player in so many ways—??until he isn't, like in the Montreal semifinals, when he retired against Novak Djokovic under questionable circumstances. He may have been saving himself for a tournament like this, and if so, we have to consider him a serious title threat, and a danger against?—most likely—Federer in the quarters.
Is Tsonga the favorite in that match? It's a pick 'em to me—we can't ignore the Frenchman's pair of Ws, but beating a five-time U.S. Open champion in Flushing Meadows is an incredible challenge. Then again, so was beating Federer at Wimbledon, where he's won six times. (And from two sets down? Impossible, non? No.) Both of their recent matches went the distance, as did Tsonga's too-close-to-call encounter today with Fish. I think we're headed for something similar in the coming days.