Frustration for Tsonga after defeat to Nadal in Abu Dhabi
It says something about the top two-ranked players in the world that a player as exceptionally gifted as Jo-Wilfried Tsonga can feel he has played better than them at various points over two days and still have two straight sets losses to show for it.
Tsonga was beaten by Rafael Nadal 7-6, 6-3 in the third-place play-off on the final day of the Mubadala World Tennis Championships, the same score by which he lost to Novak Djokovic in Friday’s semi-final.
At No 10 in the rankings, Tsonga is not a world away from those two, at least in numbers. But that gap often feels much bigger in myriad ways, and can be seen in as many.
On Saturday, Tsonga more than matched Nadal through an entertaining, engrossing first set. In fact, he looked like he might even be overpowering him with his very presence. He boomed down big serves – he hit 14 aces overall – and was particularly slick around the court.
Yet Nadal hung steady, took the set to a tie-break and then, after sharing 10 points, received the gift of a Tsonga double-fault to grab the mini-break. One point later, a 51-minute set was Nadal’s.
“I think I played better than him in the first set,” Tsonga said. “I had a couple of break points and he didn’t have too many opportunities to make points on my serve. The tie-break was very close, but he got it and then he just played better than me after that.
“What can I say? It was close but still I didn’t win.”
Nadal visibly grew thereafter, moving and serving better. Once he broke Tsonga’s serve on his fourth break point of the third game, the contest was over.
His preparations after the end-of-season break are beginning to gather pace, slowly but surely. He only started playing again two weeks ago. On the first day of the tournament, when he was not playing, Nadal practised long and hard on the outside courts. That routine will remain until the season kicks in proper.
“I had treatment on the knee to keep it improving,” he said. “When I started two weeks ago it was very slow and the first week I was playing without movement. Last week I started to move myself. I’m not 100 per cent but it’s great I came here, playing my first set in one month.
“The period between seasons is not big. So during Abu Dhabi and Doha (at the Qatar Open), I will continue practices and doing my warm-ups for the match more than what I would usually do. The period of practice in Mallorca was not enough so I need to keep preparing myself in these two events. I feel like I need to work on that extra thing to be 100 per cent ready in a few weeks.”