Olympics: Djokovic d. Tsonga
All of Djokovic's stellar qualities were on display: his ability to hit return of serves deep and hard; his penetrating backhand drives and forehand angles shots; his super-human court coverage and the Serb's improving service game. Against Tsonga, he served only three aces, but he hit 75 percent of his first serves in and won 79 percent of the points played off his first serve.
The near-capacity 14,000-plus crowd was mostly pulling for Tsonga, but the big Frenchman was broken twice in the first set — unlike his epic win over Milos Raonic when he held serve 23 consecutive times — and was caught flat-footed by Djokovic's penetrating returns. Tsonga had success serving out wide on the ad court to Djokovic's backhand, but if the serve was not wide enough into the corner, Djokvoic made Tsonga skip rope on his ensuing volley. Usually, it is Tsonga's backhand that lets him down, but his forehand often went astray today. In baseline exchanges, Djokovic often swung Tsonga deep into his forehand corner and then ran around the return into the middle of the court and hit piercing inside-out forehands that Tsonga barely touched.
If the first set was a trouncing, the second set turned into a dog fight. Tsonga broke Djokovic to run out to a 3-0 lead—as Djokovic had done in the first set. Djokovic played a terrible game when broken, dumping a backhand drop shot into the net from behind the baseline, then hitting a forehand sitter into the net, before finally netting a backhand passing shot. His dribbling of the ball before serving became more finicky, as the BBC announcer observed: "Sometimes Tsonga doesn't bounce the ball at all before he serves. Djokovic bounces it until everyone falls asleep." Tsonga was revived, attacking Djokovic's backhand with slice approach shots and putting away a number of backhand volleys.
The Wimbledon semifinalists started playing tough, close games. At 3-1, Tsonga was broken back when Djokovic ventured to net and dropped a forehand volley winner. Tsonga had two break point chances at 15-40, only to net a key backhand chip allowing the Serb to even the set at 3-3. At 3-4, deuce, Tsonga once again hit two errant forehands (Tsonga committed 19 unforced errors to 11 by Djokovic.) At 5-5, Tsonga missed two forehands and at 30-40, Djokovic came in behind a forehand to Tsonga's backhand and hit a beautiful inside-out volley setting up an easy forehand drop volley for the break.
Djokovic converted on only 4-of-13 break chances, but against a dynamic server like Tsonga, those four breaks were enough to secure a medal-round match against Murray. Djokovic holds an 8-5 career edge against his former junior rival, and has beaten Murray in the two big matches he's played against him this year — an epic Australian Open semifinal and the Miami final — but they have never played each other in the pros on a grass court or in the Olympics semifinals.