1. As masochist as it sounds, there’s a certain thrill that comes with watching Federer get through a match while not playing at his best, while his opponent was redlining his game for spurts of 4 – 5 games every set, when every second serve felt like it was going to come zapping back, humiliatingly out of reach, too fast, too heavy, too hot to control; when would-be point ending forehands wouldn’t be point ending, and every prolonged rally felt like an opportunity waiting to be missed.
Federer did not serve well. His forehand was off for most of the match (although it was solid in the final set). He was saved on more than one occasion by his backhand down the line, which seemed to be the only shot working at critical junctures of the match. The match saw some of Federer’s worst tennis this tournament, but it was also telling of how mentally switched on he has been this tournament that he was able to pull through 2 tiebreaks and win the fifth set over the huge serving Tsonga. There was a time between 2010 and 2011 when Federer would’ve lost a match like this, and melted away 2-6 in the fifth set. And at the ‘ripe old age’ of 31, the fact that Federer seems more focused that he was 2 years ago is a comforting sign, regardless of what happens in the semi-final against Murray. (FYI, I would’ve favoured Murray’s chances a week ago by some margin. Now, things are less clear).
2. And what about Tsonga? The improvements to his game are obvious – He’s leaner and meaner. His return game was better than ever. His body language remained positive for the full five sets yesterday, even when Federer had match points at 5-2 in the fifth set on his serve.
It’s a nice journalistic narrative – the Frenchman who found a coach and finally got it together: physically fit, mentally stable, tactically sound, all thanks to Roger Rasheed. The reality is somewhat less simplistic. Even as he played his A game tennis for most of the match, Tsonga went through streaks of purple and blue, and his shot selection and decision-making on court was never faultless. But minor weaknesses aside, there are players at every Australian Open who makes you wish that they could play like this all year round. Given the way he played yesterday, Tsonga has just added his name to the list.
3. By the way, this went down somewhat awkwardly in the press conference:
Q. Seems like very often in the last four or five years on the men’s side it’s been the top four seeds getting to the semifinals … Do you have any sense of why it’s not that much on the women’s side?
JO WILFRIED TSONGA: You know, the girls, they are more unstable emotionally than us. I’m sure everybody will say it’s true, even the girls (laughter). No? No, you don’t think?
But, I mean, it’s just about hormones and all this stuff. We don’t have all these bad things, so we are physically in a good shape every time, and you are not. That’s it.
Other than the mild hypocrisy of a Frenchman calling anyone “emotionally unstable”, I have no political issues with what Tsonga said. Oh come on ladies! As if you’ve never been called hormonal (or even called yourself that) at some point in your life. It’s not a great joke, but offensive? Inappropriate? Sexist? I think not.
4. And anyway. How can you dislike Tsonga after this …
Don’t blame ya, Jo. Even I wanted to smack Roger on the head with a tennis ball after some of the forehands he shanked last night. But then again, maybe I just have EMOTIONALLY UNSTABLE HORMONES.