It was déjà vu all over again at the O2 Arena tonight, as Novak Djokovic defeated Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in his first robin-match, 7-6 (4), 6-3.
Last time these two met, in Beijing, I wrote that this match-up invites reflections on, if not post-mortems of, Tsonga’s career, because Djokovic tends to display what the Frenchman primarily lacks—mental discipline and tactical acuity. The match tonight—an exciting first set, a tie-break decided by unforced errors, and a lackluster second set—followed much the same course as that Beijing match. While Djokovic himself acknowledged that Tsonga was the better player in the first set, the key stat tonight falls in his favor: zero of three break points converted for Tsonga; two of three for Djokovic.
Earlier on, Andy Murray reacted slightly acerbically to a journalist’s suggestion that he 'wasted' break points against Berdych, pointing out that many of those points were actually won by Berdych. The saved/wasted calculation is always a delicate one, but Tsonga’s failure to convert and hence take advantage of an emotionally flat Djokovic was the crucial factor tonight. Djokovic did not start the match in impressive style, leading 40-0 in his first service game before being pegged back to deuce after coming out on the wrong end of a marathon 29-shot rally which is generally meat and drink to him. Luck took a hand in saving the subsequent break point, as his backhand bounced improbably off the net, but Tsonga’s sometimes misjudged but generally effective blend of patience and aggression kept bringing him closer to Djokovic’s serve than vice versa.
At 3-3, Tsonga put a makeable forehand pass just wide on break point after typically excellent defense from Djokovic but did not seem overly disturbed, whereas the Serb's shoulders visibly drooped after a Hawk-Eye challenge denied him a potential break point at 4-5. The next game saw a combination of crunching forehands and changes of pace that had Djokovic diving and struggling to get up, but once again Djokovic’s accurate serving denied the break. Still, after a hold to love which once again had Djokovic diving and rolling, Tsonga had all the momentum going in to the first set tie-break—only to give up a sloppy error and an early mini-break, just as in Beijing. Djokovic is too fine a competitor to look that kind of gift horse in the mouth, and he served effectively to take the first set.
It was all too predictable from there. Tsonga’s tactics disintegrated into an erratic lurching between excessive passivity and slapping at the ball—he didn’t win a single point on Djokovic’s second serve in the second set. All the while, Djokovic put together a performance of cool professionalism, largely cutting out the unforced errors. A disastrously erratic game from Tsonga to open the second set put him immediately behind and Djokovic held with ease from there, including a perfectly-weighted lob for 2-1, 15-0, which took any incipient wind right out of Jo’s sails.
Djokovic was picking Tsonga’s serve with ease, in the second set and it was fitting that the match ended with another break, as Tsonga attempted a serve and volley. He can be happy that he at least tried to do things differently on court tonight; I doubt he’ll be particularly happy that the result was the same.