Life is unfair. When taking a closer look at the game itself and both men’s performance on the Philippe Chatrier Court, one can only feel sorry for the 27 year-old Frenchman, who deserved victory just as much as Djokovic (and maybe even a little more). But tennis is so much more than just hitting the ball harder than your opponent and the Serbian maestro once again demonstrated why he sits at the top of the global hierarchy.
After snatching the first set in just over 20 minutes (6-1), Novak began to lose his momentum in the second and Tsonga started to take control of the rallies. Halfway through the set, the world number one landed awkwardly on his knee after a backhand and appeared to be hurt. But when you are in the middle of a quarter-final tie in Roland Garros, desire to win surpasses pain and you just bite the bullet, which Djokovic did admirably.
More than just the pain, I think what started to really affect Novak’s form was the crowd. Playing against the home favourite in front of an insane mob almost carrying their protégé in very point is psychologically strenuous and the fans’ constant support in between points inevitably led the Serbian to lose his focus, as well as sets 2 and 3.
But the crowd, and especially in Roland Garros, sometimes tends to become a bit cheeky, ill-mannered, almost vicious. Two examples spring to mind from this game in particular : first of all, after a passing shot from Tsonga skimmed the backline of the court, Djokovic moved towards the line to make sure the ball had been in and immediately, was booed by the entire stadium. For the exact same move a few minutes earlier, Tsonga had received applause…
Secondly, and I must admit this was pretty hilarious, whilst Djokovic was in the process of serving, a not-so-bright individual (not sure I’m allowed to use the word idiot here !) shouted something to distract him. Little did he know, this unfortunate supporter was sat in the row just in front of… Srdjan Djokovic, none other than the world number one’s father, who took the culprit by the collar and insisted he stop putting off his son !
But despite his father’s intervention, Djokovic was left with two match points to save in the fourth set (4-5, 15-40) and surely, in such a hostile environment, the Serbian was going to suffer a shock exit from the tournament. But Novak is world number one for a reason, and despite having everything to lose at such a crucial stage, he managed to resurface thanks to a well-timed volley and a powerful forehand down the line.
Djokovic then went on to save two more match points before claiming set number 4 in the tie-break. From then on, Tsonga knew his opportunity had passed and the fifth set was as one-sided as the first one, with Novak piling on the pressure while Tsonga was obviously dismantled after having come so close to causing an upset.
Life is unfair, but is it really ? Indeed, Tsonga played at a very high standard throughout most of the game and one could argue that in terms of raw tennis, he was the better player. But to overcome an injury scare, four match points and taunts from the crowd in a quarter-final match in Roland Garros takes sheer class and outstanding psychological strength. In other words, Novak Djokovic.