This was a match that Jo-Wilfried Tsonga should have won all along, but refused to lose in the end.
Tsonga, the home-country favorite in Marseille, beat Bernard Tomic 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (10) in the quarterfinals today, and he saved five match points to do it. Part of him, as he faced those points, must have wondered how he had reached such a desperate place. From the second game of the match on, Tsonga had been knocking on the door and chomping at the bit, but had little but frustration and bewilderment to show for it. Jo had two break points on Tomic’s serve at 0-1 and another at 1-2, but couldn’t capitalize. A few games later, at 3-3, an angry Tsonga berated himself as Bernie cashed in on his only break point of the match, and ran out the first set from there.
Tsonga wouldn’t put up with any more of that in the second set. This time, moving forward whenever possible and turning his body language toward the upbeat, he broke Tomic at 0-1, jumped to a quick 3-0 lead, and cruised through the set without facing a break point. Tsonga was the more aggressive player throughout, and was absolutely dominant on serve—Tomic won just nine of 67 points when Jo got the first ball in.
But Bernie was almost as good in that department, and that’s what kept him in the match. He was also broken just once, and Tsonga had almost as much trouble with the Aussie's first serve, going 25 for 88 on those points. The Frenchman even struggled to read Tomic’s sidewinding second delivery. This may have been an especially bad returning day for Jo, but it also may show that, as Tomic’s serve goes, so goes his game. This is true for every player to a degree, but Bernie’s passivity left him vulnerable today when the two players started to rally. He hit his share of brilliant laser winners, and had Tsonga on the run with drop shots, but Tomic was also his usual flat-footed self on many misses. Can a player ignore the rules of footwork and win with pure ball-striking skills? The career of Bernie Tomic may give us the answer.
It appeared that Tomic was doomed at 3-3 in the third set, a 12-minute game in which Tsonga earned two break points, and neither man could put the other away. Tomic survived, forced a third-set tiebreaker with some more clutch serving, and subsequently earned those five match points. Two of them were on his serve, and on one of those Tomic put a good first ball into Tsonga’s backhand side. But Jo was up to the task each time. At 6-7, he went for broke and curled a forehand into the corner for a winner that brought a smile from Tomic. At 8-9 Tsonga went for a short-angle forehand crosscourt, and followed it with a winner from his backhand side. From there, Jo let his serve take over, firing ace No. 18 at 9-9 and ace No. 19 at 11-10. The last one earned him the match, and a potential semifinal showdown with Juan Martin del Potro.
Twice when he reached match point, Tomic wagged his finger in the air—"one more.” He didn’t get it either time. But Bernie should take some solace that, against this Top 10 opponent on his home floor, he came that close to making it to the weekend.