Tsonga Gets a Lesson and Nalbandian Continues to Sink

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Jo-Wilfried Tsonga played well for one hour while David Nalbandian played well much longer and it still wasn’t enough.

When France gave Jo-Wilfried Tsonga a wild card into the French Open two years ago, I thought to myself: “This guy will never make it, he’s too slow and klunky.” Don’t hire me to evaluate talent for your management company any time soon. The guy looked very good against Rafael Nadal in the third round at the US Open. At least for one set.

In defense of my evaluation skills, Jo-Wilfried (love that name) has played a total of eight clay court matches his entire career. He’s one of those rare net guys. He might not serve and volley but he’ll get to the net soon enough and he has arrived this year. He won four challenger events – the level just below the ATP – and got to the fourth round at Wimbledon.

He’s got game alright but he still has a lot to learn and Rafa was just the person to teach him.

Tsonga held his serve through the first set and got to the net 18 times. In the first set tiebreaker, though, Nadal’s experience won out. Veteran players have a feel for the rhythm of a match based on the situation. If they see their opponent’s shoulders sag, they’ll increase the pressure. If they’re in a tiebreaker, they’ll play with controlled aggression because every point is crucial.

A veteran also tries to keep the same level of effort throughout the match while Tsonga and his fellow newbies look like emotional rollercoasters. Intense periods of aggression are followed by inexplicable letdowns. A few loose points in the tiebreaker and Tsonga lost the first set.

He didn’t give up quite yet. He got a break point at 2-2 in the second set with a hard forehand shot down the line and he would have had another break point if Nadal hadn’t hit a beautiful running wraparound passing shot. Most players Tsonga faces won’t be that good.

Tsonga should be able to do well on fast courts if he can figure out how to stick around mentally for the entire match. He ended up losing the second set and going away in the third. He lost by the score of 7-6(3), 6-2, 6-1.

France is blowing up. They have 13 players in the top 100 and 2 in the top 20. Richard Gasquet, Paul-Henri Mathieu, Gael Monfils and Tsonga can all be top players. That is if Gasquet can serve up a bit of gumption. He quit the US Open after his first round match because of a measly fever. Gimme a break, this is a slam. What’re you worried about, giving Roger Federer the flu?

By the way, John and Patrick McEnroe were in the USA Network commentary booth on Sunday and it wasn’t as entertaining as I thought it would be. You’d be hard pressed to find two people who know more about today’s game but they’re too deferential to each other. Mary Carillo will go at John when they’re working together and Patrick and Pam Shriver tease “Cliffie” Drysdale mercilessly, but John and Patrick played it straight up.

Where’s the tension boys? Commentating is like anything else, there’s no drama without a bit of tension.

David Nalbandian is still putting up the big fight but his downward spiral continues. After three hours and fifty minutes, Nalbandian had match point on David Ferrer’s serve in the fifth set. Early last year, Nalbandian might have put the match away but the shots don’t fall consistently these days. Forehands go long and backhands go into the net.

Ferrer saved his serve then won the next two games to take the match, 6-3, 3-6, 4-6, 7-6(5), 7-5.

If Tsonga didn’t learn enough from Nadal, he should look at Ferrer. Ferrer isn’t the most talented player around but nobody works harder and these two matches had something in common. In both cases, the grinder beat out the shotmaker.

Tsonga might want to take note of that.

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