Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, whose new year’s ambition is to break up the “big four” who dominate the rankings, revealed one of the weapons which may help him do it as he reached the quarter-finals of the Qatar Open.
The world number six from France came to the net more frequently and effectively than usual as he overcame the surprisingly persistent resistance of Flavio Cipolla, the world number 74 from Italy.
“I have to find some new things,” Tsonga said, after a 7-6 (10-8), 6-3 win over Cipolla, in which he trailed 3-5 in the first set, and saved two set points in a tense and fluctuating 18-point tie-breaker.
“For sure I have to do that to play against the big four,” he went on, referring to Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Andy Murray.
“I try to improve my game with something. It’s difficult to be better, but I will continue to go to the net more.”
Tsonga has also devised a method of ensuring he does not start too slowly – doing his warm-up routine very soon before a match begins – and offering an explanation in which he described himself as “like a diesel”.
“I need to be warm at the beginning, so I don’t get broken early, and then it’s difficult to come back,” explained Tsonga who famously came back from two sets down to beat Federer at Wimbledon in July.
Tsonga was certainly running at a high enough temperature at the start against Cipolla, a tricky opponent who also liked coming to the net and who used plenty of slice in a wind. This made coping with him even trickier.
It also brought problems for Tsonga in the seventh game, when Cipolla lured the third seed into two mishits and a backhand drive into the net, and duly broke serve.
However, the Italian tightened up when he tried to serve for the set at 5-4, serving a double fault in the process, and in the tie-break he led 7-6 and 8-7 and still could not finish it.
The second set saw Tsonga generate some momentum and he produced his best spell, appearing to be in control when he was two breaks of serve ahead at 4-1.
But Cipolla pulled one of these back before Tsonga played a fine game to break again, finishing with two rampant forehands, a good approach and a thundering smash as the final shot.
The Le Mans-born, Switzerland-based 26-year-old also believes he achieved a career high ranking last year because he improved his mental abilities, and this is something he also intends to work more on.
“I continue to work on that because it’s not perfect,” he said candidly. “Yeah, I need to improve that, you know, to maybe have a chance to win against to win a Grand Slam or to win a big title.
“You know, for the moment I don’t expect the first place (in the world rankings), but I expect to win a big title and then the ranking will follow. But, yeah, I have to improve this, to be ready.”
He next plays Albert Ramos, the world number 65 from Spain, who gained a walk-over in the last eight when Alex Bogomolov, the sixth seeded American-turned-Russian, withdrew from his second round match with a right ankle injury.
If Tsonga wins that he could have a semi-final with Federer.