Cape Times

‘Ali’ lands a big blow for the old guard


MELBOURNE: There was a time when Jo-Wilfried Tsonga was one of the new kids bounding on to the block, swinging from the hip and shaking up the establishe­d hierarchy in men’s tennis.

Now aged 32, the charismati­c Frenchman who reached the Australian Open final 10 years ago, is part of the old guard holding back the charge of precocious young warriors hungry to seize power.

He managed it, just, yesterday as his vast experience saw the 15th seed outlast straggly-haired Canadian teenager Denis Shapovalov in a five-set classic in Melbourne.

Their second-rounder looked like being special and it was as Tsonga, nicknamed “Ali” for his resemblanc­e to the famous boxer Muhammad, avenged a straight-sets defeat at last year’s US Open to reach the third round for the 10th time with a 3-6, 6-3, 1-6, 7-6(4), 7-5 win.

Outplayed at times by the stylish left-hander who struck 60 winners, Tsonga looked a beaten man at 5-2 down in the deciding set before he roused himself to claim an improbable victory.

It was not all dogged defence though, even if Shapovalov’s firepower often threatened to overwhelm the former world number five, who has been troubled by a calf injury.

With his back to the wall in a thrilling denouement to the three hour, 37 minute clash on a baking Margaret Court Arena, he produced some trademark fireworks of his own, including a between-the-legs effort that had the captivated crowd on its feet.

Melbourne debutant Shapovalov, 18, playing only his third Grand Slam, would have been a worthy winner had he not wobbled when serving for the match at 5-3.

Two errors from his favoured backhand and a double-fault opened the door for Tsonga to break back and the Frenchman then swept through the final three games, sealing the 16th five-set victory of his career with a textbook serve-and-volley winner.

“I’m tired but really happy,” said Tsonga.

“I did a big fight today. It’s not easy to play the young guns; they play great and go for everything, so it’s difficult to defend. I suffered physically but I continued to fight.”

Later he expressed sympathy for 50th-ranked Shapovalov, who looks to have an exciting career ahead of him.

“I think he deserved to win also today, but I was also courageous and I did my job,” he said. “It’s never easy to finish the match.”

Shapovalov’s explosive shot-making helped him take the opening set comfortabl­y, but Tsonga, popular Down Under after his final appearance against Novak Djokovic in 2008, found some extra zip on his shots to level the match.

The third set whizzed by in 26 minutes as Shapovalov again seized control with some ripping winners off both flanks.

It was tight in the fourth as Tsonga’s physical presence kept him ahead on serve and he piled on the pressure with some forceful tennis to claim the tiebreaker.

Shapovalov was a point away from a 4-0 lead in the decider but Tsonga dug in, hoping his young foe would tighten. And so it proved as Tsonga landed a blow for the old guard.

Shapovalov said he would try to take as many positives from the defeat as possible.

“As much as the loss hurts, I don’t find it as a loss,” he said. “I find it as an opportunit­y to learn. I’m the type of guy when things don’t go my way, instead of sulking or getting mad, I go back on the court and try to work twice as hard, so next time when I’m in that position I can... just close the match out.”

Nick Kyrgios’s new-found focus remained intact despite a night of distractio­ns as the fiery home favourite outplayed Serbia’s Viktor Troicki to reach the third round without conceding a set.

The 17th seed dealt with a bellowing fan and a malfunctio­ning umpire’s microphone and was distracted by a helicopter early in the second set, but remained in firm control to claim an impressive 7-5, 6-4, 7-6(2) victory.

A year after the 22-year-old was jeered by home fans after surrenderi­ng a two-set lead against Italian Andreas Seppi to crash out in the second round, he produced more evidence that a run deep into the second week is possible.

Tsonga is next up for Kyrgios, who is shoulderin­g his nation’s hopes of a first home men’s champion since Mark Edmondson in 1976.

The 31-year-old Troicki provided a useful gauge of Kyrgios’s form and fitness, but it was the Australian’s relative calmness in the face of adversity that stood out.

He was already a set up when a fan decided to make a name for himself by standing up in the front row of the Hisense Arena and began bellowing while filming himself.

Then a couple of games later a red helicopter hovered above the court, drowning out the sound of the ball being struck.

There was plenty of chuntering from Kyrgios, but apart from “freaking out” after a late lapse when he dropped serve at 5-4 in the third set, he stuck diligently to his task.

“I think obviously it’s pretty easy to think, ‘Why me?’” Kyrgios said of the odd incidents. “The guy in the crowd was crazy. I didn’t really know what was going on.

“The helicopter, that’s when I was thinking, ‘like, of course, it’s at my match. It’s just hovering there. Of course, it is’.”

“Hearing the ball actually come off the racket is a pretty big thing. I missed four returns. I’m blaming the helicopter.”

Kyrgios got a helping hand at 5-5 when Troicki served two consecutiv­e double faults to go 0-40 down and he rifled away a backhand winner after a ferocious baseline exchange.

Two unforced errors from Troicki gifted Kyrgios a break at the start of the second set and he then dipped into his bag of dinks and chips and fizzing winners to take a twoset lead.

Kyrgios broke in the third game of the third set but what looked like being a routine victory when he served at 5-4 hit a snag as out of nowhere, he dropped serve.

“When he (Troicki) broke back in the third set, I started freaking out a little bit,” Kyrgios said.

Troicki saved one match point at 1-6 in the tiebreak with a deft volley but Kyrgios punched a backhand into the corner a point later to complete a good night’s work and supply further evidence that he is harnessing his unique talent.

“I think last year, the year before, I probably would have been probably still out on the court right now, could be losing that match,” Kyrgios said.

Croatia’s Ivo Karlovic became the oldest man to reach the third round for 40 years when he edged Japan’s Yuichi Sugita in five sets in searing heat.

Old warrior Karlovic, 39 next month, served 53 aces as he came through 7-6(3), 6-7(3), 7-5, 4-6, 12-10 in four hours and 33 minutes - the longest match in the tournament so far.

He will face Italian Andreas Seppi in round three when he will be the oldest player to contest that round since Ken Rosewall, aged 44, in 1978 when the field was only 64 players.

It is the second year running the giant from Zagreb has been involved in a marathon match here, having banged down a Melbourne record 75 aces last year on his way to a first-round win against Argentina’s Horacio Zeballos, sneaking the fifth set 22-20.

“I’m happy but also very tired,” said the 2.11m Karlovic, who towered over Sugita.

“I was already feeling it at the beginning of the third set but I just focused on my serve.”

Karlovic faced four break points in the second game of the deciding set but saved all four, one with a second-serve ace.

He then struck decisively in the 21st game of the set when he moved forward to force a forehand error from his opponent.

He completed victory a game later with a nerveless backhand volley and now sets his sights on another battle.

Karlovic, a gentle giant off the court, said he still loved the combat and would keep playing as long as his serve kept firing him to victories like yesterday’s.

“I still like it, that’s why I’m still here and doing it,” he said. “We’ll see how much longer I carry on.”

Turning his thoughts to Seppi, he said he was prepared for another slog. “It’s going to be very tough because he returns unbelievab­ly,” he said. “I will try to play my game and we will see. It’s going to be very hot and that will make my serve a little faster. But it will not be easy.” – Reuters

 ?? Picture: REUTERS ?? RUMBLE IN THE JUNGLE: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France is through to the third round of the Australian Open after a titanic five-set victory over Canadian teenager Denis Shapovalov.
Picture: REUTERS RUMBLE IN THE JUNGLE: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France is through to the third round of the Australian Open after a titanic five-set victory over Canadian teenager Denis Shapovalov.

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