In our U.S. Open preview podcast, I felt it was appropriate not only to talk about Flushing Meadows, but also about Flushing’s pro sports team, the New York Mets. The perennially disappointing baseball outfit was in a midst of an unlikely midseason surge thanks to an arsenal of young pitchers and inspired hitters making timely contributions.
This weekend, the Mets clinched a playoff spot, ensuring that they’ll be playing into October. And on the same weekend, across the Atlantic Ocean in Metz, France, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga won his third Moselle Open title in the past five years. Could both triumphs be a sign of things to come?
Tsonga claimed his latest championship with a 7-6 (5), 1-6, 6-2 victory over fellow Frenchman (and two-time champion) Gilles Simon. It was Tsonga’s third three-set win of the week, having previously outlasted Mischa Zverev and Nicolas Mahut. (In the semifinals, Tsonga beat Philipp Kohlschreiber 6-3, 6-4.) Simon, who led the first-set tiebreak 5-2 before letting it slip, and won the first five games of the second set, couldn’t sustain the momentum in the decider. “I don’t think I relaxed in the second set,” said Tsonga after the win. “I think that above all it was Gilles who pushed me into making errors.”
Tsonga hit 40 errors over the first two sets, but once again cleaned up his game when it counted most. It’s a sign of his physical and mental strength, and a confidence that his heavy serves and forehands will eventually inflict enough damage to tilt the result in his direction. And why not? Tsonga has owned this event, one that’s played on a surface that plays to his strengths: Indoor hard. Of Tsonga’s dozen career titles, eight have come on indoor hard courts (all 12 have been on some type of hard court), and six have come after the U.S. Open. He’s also finished runner-up six times at indoor hard-court tournaments.
Tsonga’s best result at a Grand Slam came at the Australian Open, when he finished second in 2008. As one of France’s best players, most is expected of him at Roland Garros. And his best win—a comeback from two sets down against Roger Federer—happened at Wimbledon. But, for better or worse, the fall is when Tsonga plays best overall. He’s probably the only Frenchman who wouldn’t view a hypothetical surface switch at Roland Garros from slow clay to indoor hard as sacrilege.
Of course, there is an important tennis tournament in France played on indoor hard—the Paris Masters, which Tsonga has won before—and the speedy surface figures prominently in the tour schedule over the next two months. Tsonga will need a Mets-like run to qualify for the ATP World Tour Finals in London; he’s a full eight spots and 1,705 ranking points away from No. 8 David Ferrer.
Still, Tsonga is one of the few players capable of not just beating anyone, but everyone, on any given week—his title run in Toronto last summer, when he beat Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, and Federer, is impossible to forget. With two hard-court Masters tournaments still to come, Tsonga will have opportunities to add to his point total.
But perhaps the biggest thing Tsonga has going for him, in this year above all others? He’s Mr. Metz.