Dubai: Tsonga d. Rosol

Wednesday, February 29, 2012 /by

TsongaleapRunning near the baseline, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga dug out a defensive lob that soared diagonally into the corner, causing Lukas Rosol to spin and sprint back to the baseline, where he somehow summoned a over-the-shoulder forehand lob that pinned Tsonga in the backcourt. Rosol's retrieval would have been the shot of the match against most players, but if you've watched the flashy Frenchman, you know he doesn't operate like most players. Tsonga leaped in the air and slammed down a smash that landed on the opposite baseline, a shot so audacious it would have made the young Yannick Noah proud.

That shot typified the match: Despite a slow start, the feisty Rosol refused to give in, but Tsonga summoned some magical shotmaking to prevent the 26-year-old Czech from closing the gap. In the end, Tsonga posted a 6-3, 6-4 victory that was often more exciting than the scoreline suggests.

The rangy Rosol is ranked No. 96 and entered this event with just three wins and four consecutive first-round exits to his credit. So when Tsonga broke twice at the outset and fired an inside-out forehand winner to streak to a 5-0 lead after a mere 17 minutes of play, the match evoked memories of the Frenchman's exhibition against Stefan Edberg last month in Doha.

But Rosol did not appear awed by the occasion; he was so pumped up that the adrenaline elevated his aggression into an over-ambitious series of shots. He finally settled down to save a pair of set points and get on the scoreboard, inciting a run of three straight games to close to 3-5. Tsonga ended the uprising with a love hold, firing a forehand winner to seal the opening set in 32 minutes.

The man from Le Mans sporting a modified mohawk is a physical presence who can combine titanic power, terrific touch, and tremendous athleticism in one potent package. Tsonga is explosive without forcing the issue. He broke to open the second set and dug out of an 0-30 hole to consolidate for 2-0. Neither man was pushed to deuce over the final eight games, as Rosol showed the ability to unload flat strikes off both wings, sometimes following them to net, while Tsonga managed his lead.

Striking his 10th ace to earn double match point, Tsonga went sprawling to the court after lashing a two-handed backhand pass down the line, but kept his head up to see Rosol net the volley, ending the 67-minute encounter. Tsonga raised his record on the season to 13-2.

Starting this week with a career-high rank of No. 5, Tsonga's next match likely won't be as concise. He faces eighth-seeded Argentine Juan Martin del Potro, who has won 10 of his last 11 matches, for a spot in the final four. Del Potro defeated Tsonga in a two hour and 49-minute semifinal last Saturday en route to his 10th career title in Marseille.  The rematch should spark fireworks again, as the winner could face four-time champion Roger Federer in the semis.

Richard Pagliaro

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