Jo-Wilfried Tsonga recovered from a set down to defeat Tomas Berdych 6-7(5), 6-3, 10-3 in the 5th/6th place play-off match at the Mubadala World Tennis Championships on Friday.
The Frenchman looked to be in fine form for most of the match in what was a closely fought contest. The world number 12 did not drop serve throughout and fired down 13 aces on his way to victory in Abu Dhabi.
With both players losing their opening matches on Thursday, Tsonga and Berdych were both hoping to exit the tournament with a win under their belt. The Czech would have fancied his chances heading into the match, boasting an 8-3 head to head record over the Frenchman, winning their last meeting at the Paris Masters at the end of 2015 in straight sets 6-3, 6-4, but his opponent was more than up to the task to challenge him today.
First set dominated by the serve
Berdych, who had a nightmare start on serve yesterday against Rafael Nadal, dropping the first set 6-0, struggled in his opening service game. Tsonga got his forehand going right from the off, gaining a 0-30 advantage and a break point. The Czech denied him with an ace and the Frenchman could not capitalize on a second chance after netting a forehand. The world number 10 subsequently came through to hold in a game lasting seven minutes.
After that battle in the opening game both players held serve with relative ease throughout the rest of the set. Of the two players, it was Tsonga who looked the more likely to break and in the tenth game played a superb drop shot volley to move to 15-30 and pushed the Czech the deuce. Berdych was unfazed and held once more to move 6-5 in front.
Breakthrough in the tiebreak for Berdych
Berdych made 85 percent of his service returns in play in Tsonga’s six service games but could not apply much pressure or bring up any break point opportunities. The Frenchman held in the 12th game to take us into a first set tie-break.
The world number 12 got the mini break immediately and moved ahead 2-0. The Czech responded by striking a thunderous forehand down the line return of serve winner and leveled the score at 2-2, only to miss a forehand wide and gift his opponent another mini break. Berdych headed to the change of ends trailing 4-2 but burst into action, reeling off three points in a row to lead 5-4. Tsonga crushed a forehand winner to level the score once again but an unforced error followed by an ace from the Czech secured the first set 7-6(5).
Tsonga turns it around in the second set
The warning signs were flashing for Tsonga in the third game of the second set as the world number 12 found himself facing two break points, his serve under threat for the first time in the match. The Frenchman saved the first with a forehand winner and the Czech narrowly missed the second opportunity, putting his forehand down the line passing shot just wide when on the run. That was to be Berdych’s last chance in that game as Tsonga closed the door, holding to move 2-1 in front.
Having escaped in that game, the former Australian Open runner-up applied some pressure of his own in Berdych’s following service game. Tsonga fought his way to earn two break points, only for both to be snuffed out by aces down the middle from the world number 10. The Czech saved a third with a forehand winner down the line but the Frenchman got his reward on the fourth opportunity, drawing an error from his opponent at the net to secure the first break of serve in the match. The crowd were delighted and fully behind Tsonga as he moved through the gears, racing into a 4-1 lead.
Tsonga began to take charge of the match, bossing the rallies as he moved close to securing the set at 5-2, 30-40 on the Czech’s serve. Berdych looked beaten in this set, but being the fierce competitor that he is, the world number 10 did not lie down, firing down an ace before holding to force the Frenchman to serve it out. Tsonga faced no problems in taking us to a final set, holding to love as he fired down his 10th ace of the match.
The Frenchman races away with the champions tie-break
The final sets in both the fifth place and the third place play-off matches in this event are decided by a champions tie-break, which is a race to 10 points. A race was exactly what it proved to be as Tsonga produced some shots for the highlight reel as he moved swiftly into a 5-0 lead. The Frenchman sprayed a forehand long to give the Czech one of the mini breaks back but Berdych could get no joy returning the world number 12’s serve, a stat which Tsonga had improved significantly as the match wore on, raising his average first serve speed from 175 KMPH in set number one to 193 KMPH in set number three. That factor proved to be decisive as he crushed a service return winner past the Czech to secure the tie-break and the match 6-7(5), 6-3, 10-3.
What the players had to say
That concluded the event in Abu Dhabi for Tsonga and Berdych, who were both pleased with the matches they had been able to play at the Mubadala World Tennis Championships. Berdych said: “Happy to be playing again, really pleased to get two matches under my belt.” Tsonga was delighted to get just his second win at the event after playing eight matches here over the past few years. “Really happy to be here, always good to play these type of matches against top players”, he said. “It’s good build-up as we prepare for the long season ahead.”