Both Tomas Berdych and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga have made the ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament final before, and neither man has dropped a set on his way to the semifinals – something’s got to give in Saturday’s blockbuster Rotterdam clash.
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The Ahoy Rotterdam will bear witness to some ferocious hitting in Saturday’s ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament semifinals as Jo-Wilfried Tsonga faces off with Tomas Berdych, both men trying to make their first final of 2017.
So far, Tsonga’s decision to forgo a repetition of last year’s doomed attempt to play the Golden Swing, the series of clay-court events in South American – he went 1-2 in Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro in 2016 – has paid off handsomely as the French player is already into his second semifinal of the month, having made the final four at the Open Sud de France in Montpellier last week before losing to Alexander Zverev.
Runner-up to Robin Soderling in Rotterdam in 2011, Tsonga often plays well in indoor conditions – eight of his 12 ATP World Tour titles, including one of his two Masters 1000 Series crowns, have come on indoor hard courts, and he has reached eight finals on indoor hard courts besides, including the sole final he made in 2016 in Vienna (losing to Andy Murray). The 2016 season wasn’t a bad one for Tsonga, incorporating as it did Grand Slam quarterfinals at Wimbledon and the US Open (and, on a personal note, the news that he is going to be a father), but it wasn’t a spectacular one either and the French player ended it outside the top 10.
That’s where the French player remains, despite a decent beginning to 2017 which saw him make quarterfinals at the Qatar ExxonMobil Open in Doha (losing, ominously, to Berdych in straight sets) and at the Australian Open, where Stan Wawrinka accounted for him. Seeded sixth at the 500-level ABN AMRO WTT, Tsonga is through to the semifinals for the first time since finishing runner-up in 2011 – and he’s yet to drop a set this week, beating wildcard Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-4, 7-6(2) and big-serving Sydney champion Gilles Muller 6-4, 6-2 before confronting Marin Cilic in the quarterfinals.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (Koen Suyk/AFP/Getty Images)
Tsonga was 1-5 against Cilic in ATP World Tour-level matches coming into Friday’s clash and had last defeated him in 2011, but in a contest of big serving – neither man dropped serve throughout the match – Tsonga defended surprisingly well and looked sharp. He almost squandered a 5-1 lead in the tie break, pegged back on serve after failing to convert three set points (double faulting on the third), but saved two set points and eventually edged his way through. The second-set tie break was much more straightforward and a jubilant Tsonga stormed through 7-6(10), 7-6(5).
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‘I’m really happy with the victory as the most important thing is that I played good tennis from the start to the end,’ Tsonga said. ‘I have been feeling great the past couple of months, including a quarterfinal at the Australian Open. Marin is a very good player and difficult to play against as he has an all-round game.’
Tomas Berdych’s quarterfinal encounter with defending champion Martin Klizan had been much more straightforward earlier in the day – the 2014 Rotterdam winner came into the match with a 4-0 record against Klizan and he maintained his perfect record, winning 6-3, 6-3 to make his second semifinal of the season. It took him just 59 minutes to end Klizan’s title defense.
‘It was my best performance so far,’ Berdych said. ‘It was a goal every match to try to improve. So far, I am very pleased. It’s a good feeling to be in another [Rotterdam] semifinal, as I know I can play good tennis on this court.’
Berdych is another who plays well indoors – six of his 13 career titles have come on indoor hard courts, including his solitary Masters 1000 title in Paris back in 2005. And he owns a 9-3 record against Tsonga, although it’s worth noting that two of Tsonga’s three wins against the Czech did come on indoor hard courts. However, Berdych won both the most recent match they played on this surface – 6-3, 6-4 at the Paris Masters – and their most recent match overall, a 7-5, 6-3 win in the Doha quarterfinals during the very first week of the season.
‘The best strategy is to play well!’ Berdych said ahead of the clash. ‘My own game will be extremely important tomorrow, as I will try to dictate from the very beginning. I need to be focused from the first point.’
Berdych vs Tsonga is scheduled on Centre Court in Rotterdam on Saturday at 3pm local/2pm GMT