By Dave Gertler
(August 9, 2014) TORONTO – No one’s been able to stop Jo-Wilfried Tsonga yet at the Rogers Cup in Toronto, and after an hour and 24 minutes of trying, neither could world No. 8 Grigor Dimitrov. The 13th seeded Frenchman now advances to his third career Masters 1000 final, after winning the Paris Indoors in 2008 and losing another final at home to Roger Federer in 2011.
After four grueling and lengthy three-set quarterfinals on Friday, a near-capacity crowd today – including a vocal contingent of Dimitrov supporters sporting Bulgarian flags – may have expected a closer battle between these two players known for their athleticism and shot-making. Instead, what they witnessed was a display of power from Tsonga, as he dictated on his serve, weathering down Dimitrov’s counterattack, ultimately breaking the world No.8 three times and saving all four break points he faced.
“I’m feeling good,” said Tsonga, who defeated world No.1 Novak Djokovic in the previous round, “You know, I’m waiting for this moment since a couple of years now.”
Tsonga was explosive on serve and forehand, delivering a total of 22 winners off both wings. Less than half of his first serves landed in, yet he only lost three points behind them in the first set, with a perfect 9 for 9 in the second set. With first serves averaging over 200km/h, it seemed even his faults were doing damage. Though his ace count was a modest 7, over half of the 23 points he won on his first serve were unreturnable by Dimitrov.
“He served good,” said Dimitrov, “I mean, not much else I could do. You have your chances. Today things were just not leaning on my side. You have a couple of chances. You couldn’t make the break.”
The four break points Dimitrov made Tsonga face came in the last game of the first set, after Tsonga had broken the 23-year-old for a 5-4 lead. In the longest game of the match, a nervous Tsonga would continually bail himself out of trouble with potent serving from the ad-court, clocking speeds between 217km/h and 226km/h to save four break points, and eventually confirm the set with a 219km/h service winner.
Dimitrov’s only reprieve from Tsonga’s attack would be a brief toilet break between sets. After Dimitrov held for 1-0 in the second set, Tsonga won 12 points in a row, breaking Dimitrov at 1-1, then making him face three break points at 0-40, 1-3.
With the support of the Bulgarian crowd, Dimitrov mustered enough free points on serve to prevent going down a double break. “Everywhere I turn,” said Dimitrov, “There was Bulgarian flags and support was amazing.”
He kept fighting, but a serving of free points and some vocal support from the crowd would not be enough to let Dimitrov back into a second set in which the Frenchman only lost two points on serve.
In fact, Tsonga won more points on Dimitrov’s serve in the second set than Dimitrov himself would win, ultimately breaking the world No.8 in the last game of the match, taking it 6-4, 6-3, and celebrating with a display of shadow-boxing, a departure from his trademark running jump-spin chest beating.
“When I win like this,” said Tsonga, “I show emotion because, you know, it’s not only on the court we work. It’s also outside. There is people around us to help us, and it’s always good to share with them.”
Tsonga is now hoping for an opportunity to play Roger Federer, who contests the other semifinal tonight against Feliciano Lopez, a player he has never lost to, to reach what will be his 37th Masters 1000 final.
“I would like to face Roger,” said Tsonga, who has had four career wins over Federer, a two-time Rogers Cup champion, “Just because it’s always an honor for me to play against him in such a good arena. Yeah, it can be one of the biggest victories for me if I am able to beat him.”
Dave Gertler is a tennis journalist, player and musician based in Sydney covering the Rogers Cup in Toronto for Tennis Panorama News. Follow his Twitter updates from the tournament on @TennisNewsTPN, follow him on his personal Twitter @davegertler, read his blog, and listen to his podcast, Tennis Days .