by Kevin Craig
Jo -Wilfried Tsonga outlasted marathon man John Isner on Sunday at Wimbledon, coming back from two sets to love down to win 6-7(3), 3-6, 7-6(5), 6-2, 19-17.
The Frenchman, who is the No. 12 seed in the event, not only battled back from a two sets deficit, but also saved a match point at 15-16 in the fifth set, making his win even more impressive.
“I’m happy to win today one more match. It’s good to be alive,” said Tsonga, the former No. 5 player in the world and 2008 Australian Open finalist.
Three of the four previous meetings between Isner and Tsonga were decided by final set tiebreaks, so this tight affair on Middle Sunday at Wimbledon was hardly unexpected.
When their match began on Saturday, Tsonga lost only two points on serve in the first set, but the latter proved to be costly. A double fault from the No. 12 seed in the tiebreak gave Isner the small opportunity he needed, and he capitalized.
A break for Isner, the only one he earned in the match, came midway through the second set, all but guaranteeing a two sets lead for the American. The big serve was too difficult to break through for Tsonga and he found himself shockingly down two sets to the No. 18 seed.
Before darkness set in on Saturday, Isner had a look to close out the match in straight sets in a third set tiebreak, but the Frenchman proved to be too good, finally able to win the bigger points, setting up a resumption of play on Sunday.
When the players returned to action on the first Middle Sunday that had seen play since 2004, it was Tsonga who took advantage of it being a new day, racing out to a 4-0 lead and winning the set in just 25 minutes.
“I was focused on the game and not really on the other things. But to be honest, once I said ‘maybe it’s going to be long like Nicolas,” said Tsonga of Isner’s epic battle with his compatriot Nicolas Mahut in 2010 that went 70-68 in the fifth set.
This fifth set between Isner and Tsonga didn’t go quite that far, but it did last over two hours and went as so many Isner matches have gone before as opportunities to break were few and far between. The American did fend off a break point in the 5-5 game before having a look at his first break chance of the set 21 games later at 15-16. Isner was unable to convert, though, leaving the door open for Tsonga.
After saving that match point, Tsonga, who hit 88 winners and 21 aces in the match, proceeded to hold at love in his next service game before breaking Isner on his second chance in the 17-17 game thanks to a forehand error. There was no mistake from the Frenchman in closing out the match, holding to 15 to set up a date with Richard Gasuqet in the round of 16 on Manic Monday.
“Hope I will have a good recovery from this one and tomorrow be fit to play,” said Tsonga of his match tomorrow with Gasquet. The two have played eight times with each player winning four.
“He’s a good friend, so of course it’s different to play against him…We know each other well, so it will be a tough match,” said Gasquet.
Both Frenchmen have had a lot of success at Wimbledon as Tsonga reached the quarterfinals in 2010 before having two consecutive semifinal appearances in 2011 and 2012, while Gasquet has also reached the semifinals twice, coming in 2007 and 2015.