tsonga tsunami ends, but only just

Posted on January 27, 2008

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Not a good day to be making predictions today. Both my picks for totally different contests fell through.

First, Senator Hillary Clinton lost the South Carolina primary elections, as she earned just under half of the votes of the overwhelming winner, Senator Barack Obama. But as the Democratic presidential nomination showdown heads into Super Duper Tuesday on February 5 when 22 states are in play, I am hoping that Clinton prevails.

Then, French tennis sensation Jo-Wilfried Tsonga ran out of steam in the final of the Australian Open, falling to Novak Djokovic 6-4, 4-6, 3-6, 6-7 (2), despite taking the first set.

Perhaps the lack of experience and nerves finally ended the unseeded Frenchman’s glorious run during the past two weeks, when he steamrolled higher-ranked players, such as Andy Murray, Mikhail Youzny and Raphael Nadal. But Tsonga’s fairy tale came to a halt as the enormity of the situation finally bore down on him, and a lack of experience on the big stage (this being only his second Australian Open and fifth Grand Slam outing) made him rack up errors and dimmed his confidence.

It didn’t help that Tsonga let Djokovic’s gamesmanship get under his skin, twice complaining to the chair umpire of the Serb’s time-wasting and endless ball-bouncing during his service games.

Regrettably, Tsonga was unable to let his annoyance at Djokovic work in his favor, even when Djokovic was down on the fourth set of the match and fluffed many of his first services. Tsonga was a little too anxious tonight, rushing points too much by trying aggressive shots but these unfortunately did not pay off as much as he would have liked them to.

Kudos to Djokovic for learning from Nadal’s and Youzny’s mistakes, by making sure to send his shots deep and pinning Tsonga to the baseline, taking out his chances of delivering deadly drop shots from near the net. Djokovic’s constant pressure also neutralized Tsonga’s firecracker of a forehand, forcing him on the defensive in the second and third sets.

But the Frenchman from Le Mans displayed fearless play even when things were not going his way. Demonstrating ferocious tenacity when he was down 0-40 and fighting to stave off set point for Djokovic in the third set, Tsonga saved five set points. But the occasion got to the better of him and he eventually lost his serve, and the set, but not before making Djokovic work for it.

Tsonga also held his nerve when the pressure was on, holding serve beautifully in the fourth set of the match to force a tie-break. But in the end Djokovic’s experience and winners got the better of Tsonga and ended his dream run.

No doubt though, that the 22-year old Frenchman is still a winner despite coming in second. His electrifying blend of exuberance, daring and talent has fired up the public’s imagination and propelled him into tennis stardom. Expect to see more of him in the years ahead, especially if his wounded body holds up and frees him to play at the level he deserves to be in.

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