Jo-Wilfried Tsonga - 2011 US Open - Day 8

A point from a deflating defeat against John Isner, Tsonga pummeled a first serve and slashed a cross-court forehand for a clean winner.  That relatively routine point inspired a paroxysm of jubilation from the Frenchman, which electrified the riveted compatriot crowd under the Bercy roof and in turn propelled their home hope towards the decisive tiebreak.  Earlier in the match, though, the 2008 champion failed to retrieve an Isner drop shot and then vaulted across the net to the undisguised delight of the audience and the thinly disguised delight of umpire Mohamed Lahyani.  While Tsonga deployed his energy usefully on the former occasion after winning an important point, he squandered it in needless showmanship on the second occasion after losing an unimportant point.  When he faces a motivated opponent of superior talent in the final, the Frenchman must channel his natural exuberance judiciously.  Following his three-hour semifinal victory, Tsonga may bring fewer reserves of energy than usual into the final, so he can ill afford to waste them.  But he should exploit the advantage provided by the vociferously supportive audience in an arena that magnifies their clamor.  Like Monfils in last year’s final, Tsonga may not have recovered sufficiently to project his full first-strike power or bolt across the court with agility deceptive for his size.

Having defeated Nadal in Madrid and Roddick in New York, Federer will not shrink from the task of defusing the home hope as Isner might have in the semifinal tiebreaks.  Sometimes inspired by the prospect of revenge, he delivered a clinical performance in their US Open quarterfinal after the Frenchman had toppled him twice over the summer.  Especially vexing for the Swiss, no doubt, was Tsonga’s comeback from a two-set deficit in the Wimbledon quarterfinal, a triumph of raw, relentless force over the versatile elegance and grace personified by Federer.  After Djokovic’s notorious return winner at the US Open, the 16-time major champion expressed his contempt for players who unleash high-risk, low-percentage shots at crucial moments.  Far more than the Serb, Tsonga inhabits that league of insouciant showmen whose attitude towards the sport irks Federer by clashing with his outcome-oriented approach to his profession.  Denying rhythm to his opponents, the Frenchman can fling returns and forehands hopelessly about the court before suddenly finding his range and cracking the same strokes off lines and corners.  This unpredictability has proved not only one of his greatest flaws but also one of his greatest weapons, allowing him to ambush opponents without warning.

Slower than the three courts on which they have battled this year, the surface in Paris would seem to undermine the offensively centered styles of both players.  Nevertheless, both of them have exploited their forecourt skills frequently throughout the week.  Since the Frenchman possesses passing shots well below the quality of his other weapons, Federer should adhere to that tactic.  For his part, the Swiss master has lost sting on his own passing shots as his timing has declined with age, so Tsonga also should continue to hurtle forward.  Much like his previous match against Berdych, the final presents Federer with the challenge of exposing his opponent’s indifferent backhand while protecting his own weaker wing.  Passing this test with aplomb on Saturday, he again eyes an opponent whose first-serve percentage may dip from fatigue in the aftermath of a prolonged, draining battle.  When Tsonga has deposed the Swiss before, he has relied upon a nearly unbreakable serve that sets up a meek, mid-court reply.  More spontaneous than sophisticated in shot selection, he has struggled to stay focused in neutral rallies from the baseline.  At his immortal best, by contrast, Federer specializes in maneuvering his opponents into a position from which he can deliver a stylish coup de grace.  For this reason, the length of their exchanges should offer a key to the trajectory of the last Masters 1000 match in 2011.  The Masters 1000 season began with the dominance of Djokovic.  It continued with the mastery of Murray.  Will it end with the resurgence of Federer, or will Tsonga disrupt this orderly narrative?

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