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French Open 2013: Roger Federer loses to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
Question of the Day
PARIS — A point from losing the first set of his French Open quarterfinal, Roger Federer shanked a routine forehand, sending the ball 10 feet beyond the opposite baseline.
That shot was a clear indication that Federer was hardly Federesque on this day. There were plenty of others: He argued with the chair umpire about a call. He dumped overhead smashes into the net. And in a truly rare ungraceful moment, he failed to put a racket to — or get out of the way of — a backhand flip by a sliding Tsonga, instead getting hit on the back.
All in all, Federer looked lost out there Tuesday against the sixth-seeded Tsonga, who pounded his way to a 7-5, 6-3, 6-3 victory over the 17-time Grand Slam champion in a 1-hour, 51-minute mismatch remarkable for its lopsidedness and brevity.
“I struggled a little bit everywhere. To be honest, personally, I’m pretty sad about the match and the way I played. But that’s how it goes. I tried to figure things out, but it was difficult. And Jo does a good job keeping the pressure on,” Federer said.
“He was just … better in all areas,” Federer continued. “He returned better than I did. Served better than I did. I struggled to find my rhythm.”
While Federer quickly faced a big deficit Tuesday and never recovered, 15-time major champion Serena Williams was able to quickly get out of a much smaller spot of trouble. Trailing in the third set against 2009 French Open winner Svetlana Kuznetsova, the No. 1-seeded Williams won five games in a row en route to a 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 victory that put her back in the semifinals at Paris after a decade’s absence.
“I’m very proud of her,” said Williams‘ coach, Patrick Moratouglou, “because she was really, really in a bad situation.”
Williams had lost four consecutive quarterfinals at Roland Garros — in 2004, 2007, 2009 and 2010 — and so when she was serving at 2-0 in the final set Tuesday, “I thought, you know, ‘Can’t go out like this again.’”
That was a pivotal game, featuring 16 points and three break chances for Kuznetsova, who flubbed the last with a drop shot that landed wide. After finally holding in that game with an inside-out forehand winner as Kuznetsova stumbled to the clay in vain pursuit, Williams then broke right away with a backhand winner that had her yelling and shaking her fist.
“Unbelievable competitor,” Kuznetsova said. “She turns on (her) game when she needs it.”
In Thursday’s semifinals, 2002 French Open champion Williams will face No. 5 Sara Errani, last year’s runner-up to Maria Sharapova. Errani reached the semifinals for the third time in the last five Grand Slam tournaments by beating No. 4 Agnieszka Radwanska 6-4, 7-6 (6).
Williams is 5-0 against Errani.
“She forces you to play at a very high level to have any chance of winning. I’ll have to hit shots hard and deep and make her move,” said Errani, who was 0-28 against women ranked in the top five before beating Radwanska. “As soon as you hit a short ball, Serena gets right on top of you, and she has enough power to end the point.”
Next for Tsonga will be No. 4 David Ferrer, who stopped the wild ride of No. 32 Tommy Robredo 6-2, 6-1, 6-1 in an all-Spanish quarterfinal. Robredo won each of his previous three matches despite dropping the first two sets, the first man since 1927 to do that a Grand Slam tournament.
“I wasn’t 100 percent ready to fight” on Tuesday after so many lengthy matches, Robredo said, adding: “And playing with a guy like David, who is a machine, it’s very tough to be like that.”
It was a common sentiment.
Federer hadn’t lost in straight sets before the semifinals at any Grand Slam tournament since a third-round defeat against three-time champion Gustavo Kuerten in the 2004 French Open.
Starting a month later, when he won Wimbledon, Federer began a stretch of nearly eight full years in which he was unbeaten in Grand Slam quarterfinals, reaching at least the semifinals at a record 23 major tournaments in a row. Since that run ended, though, quarterfinal exits are becoming a regular occurrence: He has lost at that stage in five of the past 13 Slams, twice to Tsonga, who was the runner-up at the 2008 Australian Open and is trying to give France its first men’s champion at Roland Garros since Yannick Noah 30 years ago.
“He’s got a big game. He takes time away from you,” Federer said. “He can change defense to offense very quickly. Similar traits to what I have, I guess, really.”
Quite a compliment.
Federer struggled in the fourth round Sunday against another Frenchman, 15th-seeded Gilles Simon, needed five sets to win after taking an awkward tumble and falling behind 2-1 in sets. But Federer said after Tuesday’s loss he was fine physically.
His game was not fine, not at all, on this day. And Tsonga took full advantage.
“Sports, it’s beautiful, because you can always do something. Even if you play, you know, the best player in the world … you have a chance,” Tsonga said. “Because the guy in front of you (has) two legs, two arms, one head.”
And, well, Roger Federer, now 31, sure does seem more human on a tennis court these days than he used to.
By Mark Davis
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