London: Tsonga d. Berdych

Saturday, November 26, 2011 /by

2011_11_26_JoReactionGOODJo-Wilfried Tsonga leaned to his left, dug out a deft backhand half volley winner that dripped  over the net like a splotch of yellow paint dabbing a blue canvas. That eye-popping shot gave Tsonga match point and prompted his father, Didier, to spring from his seat and rock side-to-side with such fervor he nearly shook the scarf off his neck in celebration.

Tsonga combined some ballistic serving with brush-stroke brilliant shot making to sweep Tomas Berdych, 6-3, 7-5, and reach the ATP World Tour Finals title match for the first time.

Delivering the dazzle before a Saturday night London crowd, Tsonga set up a Sunday showdown with five-time champion Roger Federer, a 7-5, 6-3 victor over David Ferrer. It marks the third straight Sunday Federer will face Tsonga with the Swiss prevailing in the Paris Masters final two weeks ago before beating the Frenchman 6-2, 2-6, 6-4, in last Sunday's round-robin match.

Nearly untouchable on first serve today, Tsonga won 27 of 30 points played on his first delivery, swatted seven aces and surrendered serve just once in the 93-minute semifinal.

Group A winner Berdych tried to target the Tsonga backhand and earned double break point in the fifth game.  Tsonga slid a serve into the corner to save the first, erased the second with a forcing forehand and used successive errors from Berdych to hold for 3-2.

Berdych’s backhand is a bit more solid that Tsonga’s sometime slightly stiff-armed two-hander, but the broad-shouldered man from Le Mans began stepping around the backhand and unloading his vicious forehand to take charge of rallies. A crackling series of dipping forehands dive-bombed into the corners to induce the error and give Tsonga double break point. Berdych sent a backhand beyond the baseline to hand Tsonga the break and a 4-2 lead.

Aiming his attack at Berdych’s flat forehand, Tsonga delivered a love hold, winning 12 of 14 points in building a 5-2 lead. Tsonga held at love to collect the opening set.

The 6'5" Berdych possesses the flat shots that play well indoors and is capable attacking net — he won 19 of 21 trips to net today — but under pressure his net clearance can shrink leaving little space for error.

Unable to create cracks in Tsonga’s backhand, Berdych faced fissures in his own game, shoveling a flat backhand into net then sending a forehand wide to face double break point.  Berdych scattered a second serve off the top of the tape and when the ball fluttered wide Tsonga had the break and a 4-3 lead, but Berdych immediately broke back for 4-all.

Minimal margins caught up with Berdych in the 11th game when he netted successive backhands to face break point then buried a forehand into the bottom of the net to give Tsonga the break and a 6-5 lead. Slamming two of his aces in the final game, Tsonga sealed the semifinal in style.

Emotive, explosive and energetic on court, Tsonga can play points that combine the brute force of a sledgehammer with the fine feel of a man who can soften the most ferocious passing shot. Tsonga will square off with Federer for the eighth time this season; Federer holds a 7-3 edge in their 10 career clashes.

Richard Pagliaro

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