Monday, January 25, 2010

Pegging The Needle


The 5th set of the Tsonga-Almagro tilt - won by Jo-Wilfried by the score of 9-7 - was some high quality theatre last night on the Hisense Arena court.

Forget about the specifics. Don’t worry about how many break points it was that Tsonga rescued, or how many winners Almagro crushed with zest off the forehand side. Just remember that in terms of wow factor, this might have been the most captivating bloodbath of the tournament to date.

The fiery Almagro was going about his business with a sense of purpose. He seemed to be mixing in anger and lust but he always tempered it with a sense of practicality that kept him inside the lines with near perfect consistency.

And Tsonga? Well, he was Tsonga and there is really no other way to put it.

Anyone who knows Tsonga knows that it can be utterly captivating to watch him when he on his game. When Tsonga plays a point to perfection it can be one of the most beautiful things in all of tennis. I won’t argue for him when it comes to his decision making, but I will argue with anyone who ever says that he has a poor volley. He plays volleys with astuteness. He’ll stretch out and snatch a 90 m-p-h laser and plop it 1’ on the other side of the net with almost no bounce.

The guy is, simply put, a phenom.

But as phenomenal as Tsonga was, he found himself in very dire straits against Almagro last night, even after holding a two set lead. After a rejected challenge while serving at a crucial juncture in the 4th set tiebreaker, Tsonga ended up double-faulting on the next serve, because he'd apparently forgotten that he was hitting a second serve.

It was a one of several wtf moments for a player who rivals his genius with his own lack of tennis intellect at many times.

Many times throughout the 5th set it was hard not to wonder: Is Tsonga so focused on looking like a bad-ass out there that he is actually hurting himself by having no regard for the fragile ledge that his control of the match was perched on?

But by the end of the 5th set all criticism of Tsonga’s air-headedness was forgotten. The frenchman had proceeded to deliver clutch shot after clutch shot - and in the process he had denied Almagro the victory he deserved with equal parts fearless bravado and remarkable pinpoint accuracy.

I’ll not deny that there were plenty of errors in this match - it wasn’t perfect by any means. But in terms of the ratio of high-quality points to duds, this was a riveting affair that featured some truly inspired shotmaking from both players.

The two adversaries seemed intimately involved in a work of art at times, and hopelessly shipwrecked on their own personal islands of contempt for one another at others. The emotional dynamic of this match, and the heated hue of competition that colored betwen its lines was thick, gooey, and bloodred.

In the end, Tsonga prevailed, but this was a match where both players sank their teeth in, drinking the blood of the moment and showing us the grittiness of the game.

1 comment:

  1. Really enjoyed this piece and your earlier piece on the Tsonga/Youzhny Tokyo final.

    ReplyDelete

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