Jo-Wilfried Tsonga has lost twice to Kei Nishikori at the BNP Paribas Masters: Can he get his revenge on the fifth seed in Thursday’s third-round encounter in Paris?
Nishikori vs Tsonga BNP Paribas Masters tennis is live from Paris on Thursday at 9pm local/8pm GMT. Watch and bet on tennis live from Paris at bet365 > live streaming > tennis
Kei Nishikori is set for a must-watch third-round clash with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga at the BNP Paribas Masters, which Tsonga must win to keep his hopes of securing a place at the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals alive.
Tsonga moved up to thirteenth place in the Race to London after he made his first final of 2016 at the 500-level Erste Bank Open in Vienna last week and, despite losing to Andy Murray, he is still technically in with a chance of securing a place at the season-ending championships. He would have to win the BNP Paribas Masters to keep those hopes alive, but while that’s a slim hope, Tsonga is nevertheless one of the few men outside the Big Four who has actually managed to win Masters 1000 Series titles during their era, triumphing in Paris in 2008 and at the Canada Masters in 2014.
Tsonga also finished runner-up in Paris in 2011, losing to Roger Federer in the final, although the past three years he has played the BNP Paribas Masters he has failed to win back-to-back matches – and, in an ominous sign for his chances on Thursday, losing twice to Kei Nishikori.
Nishikori, seeded fifth in Paris, has already qualified for the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals and also comes off a runner-up finish last week, having lost to Marin Cilic in the final of the Swiss Indoors in Basel. The fifth seed defeated Viktor Troicki 6-2, 7-5 on Wednesday to open his Paris Masters campaign despite twice surrendering a break in the second set, leading to an unusual show of frustration – a racquet flung fairly gently on to the court – the second time before Nishikori broke once more and served out the match.
‘I think it was a good match to start the tournament,’ Nishikori said. ‘Second set there were many up and downs. We both had many breaks, and maybe I could have finished it a little easier, but he started playing better in certain moments. It wasn't an easy match, but I'm happy to win.’
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (Dan Mullan/Getty Images)
Nishikori has had a much better year than Tsonga, but the Japanese player still only has one title to his name – and a 250 at that, in Memphis – despite reaching two Masters 1000 Series finals in Miami and Toronto and two 500-level finals in Barcelona and Basel. A semifinalist in Paris in 2014, Nishikori was forced to retire trailing by a set and 1-4 in the third round last year against another French player (Richard Gasquet) and will not want history to repeat himself. A recent injury, which caused him to pull out of Tokyo and Shanghai, seems to be behind him – for now.
Tsonga has also had injury issues in 2016. A longstanding knee problem has dogged him throughout the year, causing him to retire at the French Open and at the US Open against Novak Djokovic in the quarterfinals. As a consequence, Tsonga missed France’s Davis Cup semifinal against Croatia (they lost) and a couple of other scheduled events before returning to action in Shanghai, where he made the quarterfinals, and making his runner-up finish in Vienna.
‘In Vienna I put together five matches without the least bit of pain,’ Tsonga said, talking about his knee. 'The last time that happened to me was in Toronto in 2014 [his second Masters 1000 title], and that year was the only time that happened!’
During his lay-off, Tsonga also had an operation on infected sinuses – apparently also a long-standing problem – and some dental surgery. It was also recently revealed that the big French player is to become a father as his partner Noura is pregnant.
It all adds up to a Tsonga who is happy and healthy and who, as we know, loves playing at home in Paris, so this won’t be an easy match for Nishikori. The head-to-head, however, is still very much in the Japanese player’s favour. Of their seven encounters, Nishikori has beaten Tsonga in five, including the two matches they have played in Paris in 2013 and 2014 – both three-set wins for Nishikori – and their only 2016 clash at the Australian Open in January, when Nishikori won in straight sets. Tsonga’s wins came at the Shanghai Masters in 2013 and on the clay of Roland Garros last summer.
Nishikori’s blend of shot-making and baseline solidity is a difficult one for a player like Tsonga – very powerful but troublingly erratic – to overcome. I would say, though, that Nishikori has to have half an eye on London in two weeks and Tsonga knows he is almost definitely playing his last event of the season – and the French player is never more reliably dangerous than at home. He could just pull off a shock win over Nishikori on Thursday.
Nishikori vs Tsonga is scheduled on Court Central in Paris on Thursday at 9pm local/8pm BST