Roland Garros: Tsonga d. Federer
Three quick thoughts on Jo-Wilfried Tsonga's surprisingly straightforward three-set win over Roger Federer in the French Open quarterfinals (for more on the 7-5, 6-3, 6-3 win, including quotes from the players, click here):
1. Roger's rough start caught up with him this time. Apologies to Fabrice Santoro, but it's Federer who tennis fans really should be calling "The Magician." Not just for his array of shots, trick and otherwise, but for his ability to escape from seemingly perilous positions. As my colleague Steve Tignor noted on Twitter during the match, Federer had won five of the last nine times he'd trailed two sets to love, and in the previous round had just rallied from two-sets-to-one down to beat Tsonga's countryman, Gilles Simon.
But while Federer can still be expected to find his form in time against the Simon's and Julien Benneteau's of the world, a comeback of similar proportion against the elite class is becoming too tough an ask. This is the third straight Grand Slam tournament in which Federer hasn't been able to dig his way out of an early hole—Tomas Berdych and Andy Murray both took early leads and eventually the match at the most recent U.S. and Australian Opens, respectively. Long known as one of the sport's top front-runners, Federer is proving that in both victory and, lately, defeat.
2. Tsonga did what Kuznetsova couldn't. Of the top four seeds, Federer surely drew the toughest quarterfinalist in the erratic but brilliant Tsonga. You could describe Svetlana Kuznetsova, who pushed Serena Williams to three sets earlier today, in kind. But while Kuznetsova, who like Tsonga moves well on clay and can hit through the slow surface, was unable to sustain the requisite level of play needed to pull off the upset, Tsonga did not give Federer any look at getting back into this match in its latter stages.
Winning the first set from a break down surely gave Tsonga a well-timed confidence boost, which helped him surge through the second set. But it was the third, where the score was close even if the play wasn't as balanced, where Tsonga needed to assert himself one final time. He did that, continuing his aggressive tennis that Federer struggled to handle, and I never thought during the third set that the Swiss would be able to mount a massive comeback—though if Tsonga lost the set, I might have reconsidered. Considering what happened to Tsonga last year at Roland Garros, at this very stage of the tournament, and the pressure he faces from the Parisian fans, this was a very impressive showing, and it speaks well for his chances going forward.
3. Jo, you've never had a better chance. Tsonga said before this match that he needed to be capable of beating two of tennis' Big 4 at the same event. He will probably need to do so if he's to become the first Frenchman since 1983 to win Roland Garros, but he has a much better opportunity because he won't have to accomplish the feat in back-to-back matches. He'll face Ferrer, who will almost surely test Tsonga more than he was today, for a spot in the final.
I have no doubt that Tsonga, who with coach Roger Rasheed seems more motivated, grounded, and prepared than ever, won't take the Spaniard lightly. Neither should we. Although many people are calling a potential Novak Djokovic-Rafael Nadal semifinal the de facto final, and others called this match a de facto semifinal, Ferrer is 2-1 against Tsonga, having scored wins both on clay and in France. It's a close call, but that's something I couldn't say if Tsonga was going to be facing Rafa or Nole in the final four.