It takes a lot of skill to beat a Top Ten tennis player. It also takes a lot of skill to beat one who has won Grand Slams on that particular surface. It takes a completely different set of skill entirely to beat three such Grand Slam-winning Top Ten players, all while marching on the road to a Masters 1000 title.
Meet Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. The Frenchman is not exactly a household name, but he has had some degree of success in the past, contesting the final of the 2008 Australian Open as well as making showings in the semifinals of Wimbledon and the French Open. He holds a career 11 titles, including two Masters 1000 titles, and spent the better part of 2013 within the lower levels of the Top Ten.
His 2014 season prior to Montreal, however, has been less than satisfactory. He failed to win a single title, and produced sub-par fourth round showings in the first three Grand Slams of the year. As a result, Tsonga dropped down to World No. 15, finally falling out of the Top Ten for the first time in nearly a season.
However, the Tsonga glimpsed by spectators in Montreal was a completely different animal than the forlorn and beleaguered player who saw an early exit at Wimbledon not a month prior. This Tsonga was pumped and ready to play his best tennis, and his admirable run to the final bears testament to his abilities.
Tsonga spent the first two rounds of the Rogers Cup in Montreal dispatching fellow Frenchmen Édouard Roger-Vasselin and Jérémy Chardy. Both lesser ranked contenders, no one was surprised at Tsonga’s relatively easy wins, and most predicted that he would fall to three-time Rogers Cup champion, Novak Djokovic, fresh off a Grand Slam victory at Wimbledon. However, Tsonga defeated Djokovic in two simple sets, displaying little exertion in the process. The tennis establishment reeled over such a handy victory over the hard court favorite World No. 1, and Tsonga upped the ante in response.
His next target was Andy Murray. Hard court had always been a place of refuge for the Scot, and the hard courts of the US Open played host to the first Grand Slam he ever won. But he too fell in Tsonga’s Canadian conquest, despite taking the second set and forcing the first to a tiebreak. Tsonga seemed unstoppable.
Tsonga met Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov in the semifinals. Dimitrov had experienced a relatively simple run to the top in Canada, with his highest seeded opponent coming in the form of 17th-seed Tommy Robredo. Tsonga dispatched the battered Bulgarian in two quick sets, and booked his place in his third Masters 1000 final, against friend and longtime nemesis, Roger Federer.
Federer had arrived in the final following a series of victories over David Ferrer and Feliciano López. Turning 33 during the tournament, Federer displayed some hints of his vintage playing style during his matches, but commentators noticed that he had to fight harder for points that would have come easily several years ago. Federer clawed back several times to stay in the match against Tsonga, but ultimately fell to the Frenchman in two sets.
Predictions for the rest of the US Open Series
Tsonga now leads the field in the US Open Series. In many ways, his victory has placed a large question mark over the US Open. The dominance of the Big Four is now once again in question. Make no mistake; the Big Four have collectively won 36 of the last 38 Grand Slams, and Nadal’s win at Roland Garros and Djokovic’s win at Wimbledon seemed to bring the status quo back into being this season. However, the growth of unexpected contenders has continued and will continue to show, and this year’s US Open may bear testimony to a new winner.
Tsonga now has at least three wins against each of the Big Four, a feat rivaled only by Andy Roddick. This newfound resurgence could lead to a powerful performance in Flushing Meadows in a few weeks, a place where Tsonga has never progressed past the quarterfinals. This could be the year that a non-Big Four member wins the US Open for the first time since Del Potro’s victory over Federer in 2009.
Watch the proceedings of the Cincinnati Masters with a keen eye. With the US Open around the corner, players will be giving no quarter in this Masters 1000 event. Perhaps the French will march south from Montreal and take Cincinnati.
Andrew Eissen, senior editor of Three for Ten Sports, serves as chief tennis analyst.