The terre battue isn’t a trampoline, but Jo-Wilfried Tsonga made it look that way at times today. The explosive Frenchman went airborne at the right times to separate himself from Nikolay Davyenko and bounce into the Monte Carlo round of 16 with a 7-6 (2), 6-2 victory.
Tsonga celebrates his 28th birthday tomorrow, but Davydenko delivered an early gift today. Opening with three consecutive errors followed by a foot fault, Davydenko wrapped a bow around a horror show of a first game with a double fault to donate serve at love. Tsonga, who won 11 of the first 13 points, was up 2-0 with double break point in a matter of minutes, but Davydenko denied three break points with a gritty hold.
Stepping closer to the baseline and re-directing Tsonga’s drives, Davydenko began spreading the court. The 31-year-old Russian drilled an inside-out forehand for a break point in the fourth game. Then, already moving to his right when Tsonga hit a forehand down the line behind him, Davydenko skidded to a stop, reached back and hit a stretching, one-handed backhand reply that floated over the net. That improvisational magic gave the Russian the break, and he backed it up with a forehand drop volley winner for a love hold and 3-2 lead.
Comparing the physicality of the reedy Davydenko to the muscular Tsonga is like comparing the explosiveness of a lightning bug to lightning: Tsonga has a 50-pound weight advantage and hits a much heavier serve and forehand, but Davydenko compensates with impeccable timing. He isn’t quite as quick around the court, nor as precise as he was when he reached a pair of Roland Garros semifinals, but Davydenko can still dazzle when he’s tuned into the muse.
These two had split four prior meetings, but Tsonga’s serving prowess—he hit seven aces and one double fault; Davydenko had no aces and four doubles—was crucial at crunch time. Tsonga smacked his fourth ace and followed with a sharp-angled forehand drop shot to hold at love for 5-5.
In the probing exchange that opened the tie-breaker, Davydenko began to take control, but flattened a backhand into the net on the 15th shot, giving Tsonga the minibreak. Tsonga then displaced Davydenko with a sharp-angled sliced serve to set up a forehand winner for a 3-0 lead, imposing a pattern he used to tormenting effect. He stretched the lead to 5-1 with a service winner. Slicing a serve that sent Davydenko well off the court, Tsonga cleared space for a forehand winner up the line, closing the set with his 18th winner.
Davydenko dug out of a demanding deuce game with a running forehand pass that saw him come to a skidding stop eight feet behind the baseline to level at 2-all. But that was the last game he would win. Tsonga was 12-0 when winning the first set this season, and would stretch his unbeaten mark today.
Showing his agility on clay, Tsonga played a series of slice backhands to repel Davydenko, eventually earning a break point on a backhand into the net. A Tsonga forehand pass up the line clipped the top of the tape and popped up in the air, giving Davydenko time to adjust, but he steered a backhand volley wide. Tsonga had the break and a 3-2 lead and never looked back, winning 16 of the final 20 points to close it in one hour and 26 minutes.