Jo-Wilfried Tsonga lost his rematch with Rafael Nadal but I’m still a fan.

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Frustrating day. I settled in here at Indian Wells to see if Jo-Wilfried Tsonga could summon up anything close to the perfect match he played against Rafael Nadal at the Australian Open. Twice I was ready to wrap up my piece with the news that Tsonga can beat Nadal without the playing a perfect match and twice I was foiled.

Three hours later, Nadal was the guy moving on to the quarterfinals and Tsonga was going home. After exchanging breaks to start off the match, Tsonga won the first set in a tiebreaker after failing to cash in two set points one game earlier. Same thing in the second set: the players exchanged breaks and went to a tiebreaker again.

Tiebreakers should favor Tsonga with that big serve of his and here was the first time I was ready to finish my story. Tsonga only managed to get one first serve in out of five tries, however, and we were going to a third set.

The second time came after Tsonga broke Nadal in the third set to go up 4-2. He was playing pretty well from the baseline – at one point he hit an inside out forehand followed by a drop shot to the opposite corner and then won the point with a lob, but he couldn’t get to the net anywhere near as much as he did at the Australian Open because this is a slower and stickier court. As Nadal put it:

The ball is getting a lot of topspin, so much more than Australia, so that helps me a little bit.

That may have helped him but that wasn’t the difference today. The difference was tennis years: Tsonga is almost two years older than Rafa in biological years but far younger in tennis years. This is how Rafa put it in his endearing way of speaking:

The true is, well, I have more years on the top position, like I have three years I win a lot of matches like today.

I’ve been trying to interview Jonathan Erlich and Andy Ram all week to find out why they didn’t play Dubai after announcing that they would. I ran down to the cafeteria to find them because they’d just finished their match so I missed part of the third set. It was a waste of time on my part. Erlich and Ram won’t speak to me without an ATP person present and when asked in a post match media session, they refused to talk about Dubai.

I did see Tsonga fail to serve out the third set and that was all Rafa needed. His first serve percentage in the third set was 81% while Tsonga had exactly zero aces during the set. This is what Tsonga said about that third set and it shows some immaturity:

Yes, my serve was not very good in the third set, and I tried to hit the ball more and more and maybe it was the wrong way.

Ya think? Donald Young is only 18 years old but he took something off his serve in his third round match with Nadal rather than smashing the ball and continuing to miss first serves. Young didn’t win the match but that was the correct adjustment.

Young has also played in five Master Series events while this is only Tsonga’s second and that Australian Open final is his only final to date. I expect Tsonga will figure it out and I think he would have won this match had it been played at Wimbledon. He feels bad because he wanted to prove that his run in Australia wasn’t just a matter of luck, but he proved it to me.

I think he’s got some Pete Sampras in him. He can hit aces when he needs them, he’s got a killer inside out forehand and a great touch volley, he’s even got Pete’s jump overhead. Best of all, he’s shown that he can rise to the occasion in big events.

I’m still a fan.

I told you I’d report on the Maria SharapovaDaniela Hantuchova match but the desert heat got to me so I napped through part of it, but I will tell you this: Sharapova looks like her unbeatable self. Hantuchova got to the first set tiebreaker but the second set was soon over by the score of 6-1. Hantuchova was a big hurdle for Sharapova because she’s the defending champion and she’s won this tournament twice, but it was no contest after the tiebreak. I don’t see anyone here who can beat Sharapova.

Except for a Quick Hit I’m taking tomorrow off and Pat Davis will be reporting in. See you Friday.

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