Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Tomas Berdych have more in common than meets the eye. The former is a flashy and mercurial Frenchman, the latter a brittle and mechanical Czech. But each is also a tall, flawed talent who resides one sizeable step below the game’s top tier. Each of them can beat the top guys on the right day, but is just as likely to sabotage himself on the wrong one. We saw a little of those good and bad sides from both today in Berdych’s 7-5, 3-6, 6-1 round-robin win.
Berdych is, for the most part, the bigger hitter, but this match was on Tsonga’s racquet from start to finish. By the end of the first set, after being broken at 5-5 on a routine forehand error, the Tsonga was hanging his head disconsolately, so down that he appeared ready to challenge one of his own winners—he couldn’t believe it had actually landed in. By the middle of the second, though, we saw a very different Jo, one who had roused himself and reached a peak of intensity and leaping aggression. He broke Berdych with a blistering forehand return at 2-1, hit a second serve ace to save break point at 5-3, and closed the set with a surprise serve and volley foray and another ace.
It appeared for a second that Jo’s storm surge would take him all the way through the third set; in Berdych’s opening service game, Tsonga reached 15-40. But that would be his high-water mark for the day. On the next point, apparently feeling like he could do anything, Tsonga tried an overhead off of a Berdych overhead. Rather than a spectacular winner to break, though, Tsonga shanked it and came down holding his right side. Berdych saved the second break point with a service winner. He held. The match had been stabilized.
Two games later, Berdych reached 15-40. Jo hit a big serve, but Berdych reflexed it back brilliantly and Tsonga eventually flew a forehand long to be broken. There was a glimmer of hope for Tsonga in the next game at 30-30, but he snuffed it out himself by shanking a makeable return—if there was one shot that hurt Tsonga more than any other today, it was his return. By the next game, he was out of it, struggling to keep the ball in the court and even remember the score. This is why, I guess, Tsonga has so few victories this year against his fellow London qualifiers.
Credit Berdych for being the steadier presence, for taking care of his serve—he won 83 percent of his first-serve points—and making an effort to attack and take over the net when possible. Best for him was the way he weathered Tsonga’s surge and came up with the key shot—that big return to break in the third—when it would do the most damage. By winning, he keeps his semifinal hopes alive in London, though he’s going to have to play better if he wants them to live until the weekend. Berdych faces Novak Djokovic Friday; his record against him is 1-10. The Czech and the Serb come, roughly, from the same part of the world, but they have less in common than meets the eye.