This was probably a final match that the odds makers never predicted, but the two men left standing on the last Sunday of the Australian Open were Serbian Novak Djokovic and Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Moreover, with the great disparity in these two’s ranking (Djokovic #3, Tsonga #38), expectations for a superior match were probably low. But to the contrary, viewers were treated to a high quality, top-notch match worthy of a major final.
As relative newcomers to this stage of a major, (Djokovic’s second, Tsonga’s first), both players’ anxiety level was off the chart. Moreover, as the higher ranked player, Djokovic was undisputedly the favorite, adding further tension to an already tense situation. At the beginning of the match, neither Djokovic nor Tsonga held his serve, the two exchanged breaks for the first four games. But as their nervousness began to abate, the glimpse of the brilliant play that propelled each to this moment started to peak through, particularly in Tsonga’s case. While Djokovic was serving to equalize the first set at 5 all, his first serve deserted him, giving Tsonga the opportunity at the second serve. With the score 30-30, Djokovic had a chance to take the lead in the game. But when Djokovic failed to put away an easy overhead, the speedy Tsonga reached the shot and converted it into a cross-court winner. With a break point in hand, Tsonga took advantage and made a sensational lob to win the first set 6-4.
At this juncture, Djokovic was visibly unsettled by Tsonga’s play, realizing that he may have underestimated his opponent. At the start of the second set, Djokovic’s first serve again appeared troublesome with Tsonga having a few 0-30 games. But when it mattered most, Djokovic came up with the goods and never faced a break point on his serve. Clearly, this was the turning point for the young Serbian. As Tsonga’s level of play commenced to drop, with more unforced errors and careless shots, Djokovic took advantage of the situation pulling off a break point in the second set. Djokovic then consolidated the break and eventually equalized the match at one set all. From that point on, Djokovic’s confidence began to increase.
In prior rounds, Tsonga had been brilliant at coming to the net and being mindful not to get stuck in baseline rallies, he appeared to veer away from that strategy after Djokovic passed him repeatedly while at net. In the third set, Djokovic cleaned up the mistakes that littered his game and continually applied pressure on Tsonga’s service game. Once Djokovic secured an early break in the third set, he did not relinquish the lead and went to wrap up that set. At this point in the finals, Tsonga could have decided to roll over and play dead, but he chose to fight on. Both players protected their serve in the fourth set despite Djokovic early on suffering from cramps that required treatment. As a result, a tiebreak became necessary to settle the set. Djokovic took charge in the tiebreak wining it 7-2 and along with it the match 4-6,6-4,6-3,7-6. This meant that for Tsonga, this year’s “Cinderella story”, the clock struck midnight putting an end to his fairy tale run. With Djokovic being the one to hoist this major’s trophy and with two new faces in the finals, can this be labeled a changing of the guards? Time will tell.