Tactics Tuesday: Tokyo & Metz
By René Denfeld
Each Tuesday, we’ll be looking back at some of the matches of the past week on the WTA and ATP Tours and analyze some key patterns and tactics which determined the outcome of those encounters.
“David vs. Jo-liath”
Metz QF: David Goffin def. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 1-6 7-6(5) 7-5
There wasn’t a lot of action on the ATP tour in the past week what with only the tournament taking place in Metz, headed by Toronto winner Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. The quick indoor surface and the hometurf advantage made Tsonga the easy favorite, not only in this QF match against Goffin but also for the title.
For much of the first set it looked as if everything went according to plan for Tsonga. His serve was clicking from the first game and despite occasional flashes of brilliance from Goffin, the Belgian often found himself stuck between baseline and backfence. Tsonga often exerted too much pressure and effortlessly ran around his backhand to rush his opponent from side to side. After a sloppy game with four unforced errors, Goffin found himself down 5-1. Despite a late struggle from Goffin, who forced the Frenchman to four deuces in the next game, Tsonga served it out and sealed the deal.
Throughout the second set, Goffin had begun stepping up into the court – particularly on his own serve – and was regularly seen inside the baseline. The young Belgian dictated play with controlled aggression, absorbing Tsonga’s pace and continued pressuring his decorated opponent in the eventual tie-breaker. After being down 4-1, Tsonga leveled the “jeu decisif” back only to throw in a double fault, allowing Goffin to wrap things up on his own serve.
At the beginning of the final set, Tsonga came out of the blocks quickly, reeling off eight of the first nine points with renewed initiative. Tsonga could have easily put a lid on this match from there but the top seed bottled two easy put-aways, one overhead into the bottom of the net, another forehand sailed long after miscalculating Goffin’s return. Tsonga laughed off both of those unfocussed errors but his mirth subsided after Goffin won the next two points to break back. For the remainder of the match Goffin was the steadier and better player, not allowing Tsonga any further break points and putting more and more returns into play. Tsonga saved four break points in his last two service games as he swung between dreadful errors and glorious winners, but the fifth break point proved his undoing thanks to a sloppy backhand slice.
During his own service games, Goffin was ruthlessly quick in pushing Tsonga out wide on the second shot, largely taking the return on the rise and even when Tsonga fired back, his agility around the court and great balance when hitting his groundstrokes allowed him to soak up the top seed’s pace and redirect the ball. Goffin’s week in Metz opened my eyes to how similarly balanced and economical his game is compared to Simona Halep’s is on the WTA. Both might not be the tallest on their tours but they pack more of a punch than their appearances might suggest.
“The demons from my past”
Tokyo QF: Ana Ivanovic def. Lucie Safarova 6-4 6-3
Ana Ivanovic hadn’t won a match against Lucie Safarova in 5 years. Ana Ivanovic went into Roland Garros touted as one of the favorites and she lost to – you guessed it – Lucie Safarova in the third round.
Last week, the Serb had a chance to do a little bit of exorcising when she faced the Czech star in the Tokyo quarterfinals. A notoriously bad match-up for Ivanovic, Safarova’s lefty serve and the curl on her cross-court forehand have often kept Ivanovic on the backfoot, jamming the Serb who, like Tsonga, aims to run around her backhand to unleash her powerful forehand. The invariably shorter reply from the Ivanovic backhand often gives the Wimbledon semifinalist chances to move in and take advantage.
On Friday night though, the former No. 1 came racing out of the blocks. Serving well, Ivanovic hit with good depth off of both wings. The backhand that had let her down against Safarova so often in the past posed few problems as Ivanovic took a 5-0 lead. Avoiding the bagel by a whisker, Safarova started to remind everyone why she has troubled her opponent in the past. The No. 7 seed’s serve into the Ivanovic backhand looked to break down the changeable shot. Facing three more break points in the ninth game, Ivanovic held off her nemesis with strong serving to take the first set 6-3.
The second set was a more straight-forward affair as Ivanovic regained her grip. The 2008 French Open champion was returning the Safarova serve with enough depth to do one of two things: neutralize Safarova and create openings later in the rally, or pounce immediately. With two breaks and the tactical edge in hand, Ivanovic conquered Safarova in straight sets.
Safarova didn’t play the game that has given the big names fits in 2014, but much of the credit goes to Ivanovic, who came out playing the game that has made her the player with the most wins of the season. The added confidence negated the oft-looming intimidation factor for the sometimes shaky Serb.
Highlights from the match:
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