Live Blog: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga vs. Roger Federer

Does Federer have anything to fear from Tsonga tonight?

Welcome to this live blog of the Australian Open quarterfinal between Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Roger Federer.  We will update about once for every two or three games as the match unfolds, possibly more often at tense moments.  Keep refreshing the page and scrolling down to see updates.

Federer 1*-0:  A double fault contributes to a weak start for Tsonga, who finds himself down double break point directly after a Federer smash.  Although he saves the first, a lazy volley surrenders the second to give the Swiss an early lead.

Federer 2*-1:  Always an excellent front-runner, Federer keeps his momentum racing ahead with a love hold.  A staggering Tsonga nearly lets a 40-0 lead on serve get away amid some loose backhands from both men, but a service winner at 40-30 keeps him somewhat in the set.

Federer 3*-2:  Two break points go begging for Tsonga, one on a Federer forehand winner and one on a forehand error of his own.  Despite the pressure that he created in that game, he still doesn’t look settled into the match mentally yet.  Federer has little trouble moving him out of position.  His forehand continues to look erratic, however, allow Tsonga to hold easily.

Tsonga 4-3*:  Starting to cover the court more alertly, the Frenchman continues to dog the Swiss in another tight service game.  From deuce, Tsonga rips a cross-court return winner off his forehand and then manages to work his way into a rally off a Federer first serve.  A groundstroke error puts the set back on serve, compensating for the Frenchman’s early lapse.  Suddenly into a groove on his first serve, Tsonga races to 40-0 and survives a late wobble in the game to finish it authoritatively with a smash.

Tsonga 5-4*:  Neither man looks formidable in the eighth game, which features backhand shanks from Tsonga and a double fault from Federer.  At 4-4, 30-30, the world #2 shows some of his vintage ball control by lofting a lob that draws a less than definitive smash, which then produced another lob towards Tsonga’s backhand that the Frenchman sprays wide for a break point.  After a baseline rally of medium length, Federer nets a forehand to bring the game back to deuce, and the seventh seed uses more aggressive serving to hold.

Tsonga 6-5*:  By varying the placement on his serve, some out wide and some into his opponent’s body, Federer earns the hold that he needed to survive in the set.  Tsonga then shows of his exquisite touch at the net in picking up a drop volley from near his shoelaces, beyond the reach of even the Swiss star’s silky movement.  He follows Federer’s love hold with a love hold of his own.

Federer 7-6 (7-4):  In the shadow of a tiebreak, Federer unleashes a series of inside-out forehands to hold with ease.  An incorrect challenge on his first serve to start the tiebreak seems to fluster Tsonga, who immediately nets a backhand to concede a minibreak.  Federer uses his forehand to open the court and expose his opponent’s ungainly movement over the next two points, claiming a 3-0 lead.  With two virtual must-win points on his racket, Tsonga converts with a deft backhand slice and a crushing cross-court forehand, but Federer still leads 4-2 at the change of ends following a smash.  An ace that barely grazes the outside of the center stripe moves him within two points of the first set.  Responding with a well-angled ace and a surprisingly precise pass when Federer seemed in control of the rally, Tsonga closes to within 4-5.  With the set on his racket, Federer quickly claims double set point and benefits from a netted backhand by his opponent to win a neutral exchange on the first.

Federer 7-6 2-1*:  Both men start the second set with emphatic holds, not allowing the other even a flicker of hope on return.  Tsonga does win two points in the third but has no answer for Federer’s varied placement on serve.

Federer 7-6 3-2*:  Another effortless hold from Tsonga continues his fine service rhythm, quite a contrast to the early stages of the first set.  Attacking the net behind a deep forehand approach, Federer exhibits in touch with a tidy drop volley.  A penetrating backhand down the line from Tsonga looks about to position him at 30-30 on his opponent’s serve, but Federer narrowly retrieves it and draws a wild forehand error.  The Swiss star then curls a forehand of his own around the net to hold.

Federer 7-6 3-4*:  The run of service points from the Frenchman extends to the midpoint of the second set as Federer struggles to put a return in play.  An inside-out forehand bomb by Tsonga precedes a loose forehand from the Swiss that leaves him in a 15-30 hole.  Another opens the door for the underdog with a break point, which he converted by staying in a rally long enough to lure Federer into yet another mistimed forehand.

Federer 7-6 4-5*:  Roaring through another comfortable hold, Tsonga marches within a game of leveling the match.  He also begins to start winning a greater proportion of the longer rallies as errors trickle in greater quantities from Federer.  Darting towards his forehand corner, Tsonga fired a cross-court pass in a display of his familiarly inspired shot-making.  With a confident forehand drive volley, though, Federer rallies from 15-30 to stay alive in the set.

Sets even 7-6 4-6:  In his most important service game of the match so far, Tsonga opens with an ace down the center stripe.  His confidence surfaced when he rifled a backhand down the line with greater authority than he often shows on that stroke.  While Federer saved the first of three set points on the Frenchman’s serve, the second produced a service winner that evened the match at one set apiece.  The second seed had won just two points in his return games that set, recalling his futility in that area when he lost to Tsonga at Wimbledon in 2011.

Federer 7-6 4-6 2-1*:  Federer starts with the type of routine hold that he needed to settle himself after his disappointing performance in the second set.  Still on an emotional peak, perhaps, Tsonga suffers a slight dip in intensity and echoes some of his misses early in the first set.  Two sprayed forehands leave him behind 0-30, but he wins a rollicking rally that stretches both men to all corners of the court.  An acrobatic smash by Federer (on a fine lob) sets up an early break point at this key juncture of the match.  Attempting to force the issue too early in the point, Tsonga hurtled to the net behind only a modestly assertive approach.  A backhand pass into his body forced him to net the volley, which handed Federer a valuable early lead.  After the Swiss badly mistimed an inside-in forehand for 30-30, Tsonga challenges correctly to set up a break point.  That brave gamble of stopping play during the rally reaps rewards when Federer sprays another forehand into the doubles alley for the break back.

Federer 7-6 4-6 3-2*:  A window of opportunity drifts open in Tsonga’s service game when an elegant backhand pass from the Swiss takes it to deuce.  Tsonga hammers a breathtaking inside-in forehand winner off a sideline, only to allow a fortuitous net cord to disrupt his timing on the next point.  Federer’s backhand lets him off the hook, though, negating his opponent’s struggle to find a first serve.  Tsonga saves a break point with an inside-in forehand that cleans another sideline, and an ace signposts his route to a hold in the longest game of the match so far.  More efficient is Federer’s next service game, highlighted by a combination of a punishing forehand into the corner and a delicate drop shot.

Federer 7-4 4-6 4-3*:  Pummeling forehands down the line and cross court at will, Tsonga keeps Federer off balance more effectively in his next service game.  The Swiss creates no chances, but neither does he allow any in the seventh game.  From behind his own baseline, Federer strikes a clean backhand winner off the opposite baseline that demonstrates how delicious that shot can look when at its vintage best.

Federer 7-6 4-6 5-4*:  Normal service resumes with full force for Tsonga, who holds at love while needing to hit hardly a single groundstroke.  A double fault suggests a slight tremor of unease on Federer’s serve, but he drops no other points en route to advancing within a game of the set.

Federer 7-6 4-6 6-5*:  Showing no signs of nerves as he served to stay in the set, Tsonga even unleashes a backhand cross-court winner on the third point of his love hold.  Two groundstroke errors from Federer, one on his backhand and one on his forehand, create a glimmer of a chance for Tsonga at 0-30.  At that pivotal crossroads, Federer finds a sideline with his backhand, inspiring his first celebratory roar of the night.  Tsonga continues to struggle with approaches to his backhand, routinely dropping the passes into the net.  A careless return sets the stage for Federer to escape.

Federer 7-6 4-6 7-6 (7-4):  A body serve by Tsonga backfires when the Swiss punches a body return at an angle that leaves the Frenchman no option but to hit into an open court.  He wins the next three points, however, as Federer starts to look a bit rattled.  The former champion does open the tiebreak with a service winner, to which Tsonga responds with an inside-out forehand rocket.  At 1-1, a routine backhand volley error from him gives Federer the early minibreak, handed straight back with a ghastly miss by the Swiss at the net.  The men change sides at 3-3 following a Federer inside-out forehand winner and a Tsonga unreturnable serve.  The second seed’s return barely crawls over the net on the seventh point, drawing a meek slice approach from Tsonga that Federer punished with a pass.  Undeterred, he closes to the net on the ninth point to regain the minibreak.  A smart challenge from Federer erases a service winner and forces a second serve from Tsonga.  When the Swiss puts it back into play, the Frenchman unwisely runs around to hit a forehand from his backhand corner, leaving the court entirely open for Federer’s backhand down the line.  Handed two set points, Federer converts the first with a crafty pass towards Tsonga’s backhand.

Federer 7-6 4-6 7-6 1*-2:  Two delicious drop volleys by Tsonga start the fourth set positively for him, necessary in a match that he trails by two sets to one.  Federer does not slip into a lull as he had early in the second set, meanwhile, holding serve comfortably and opening a 0-30 lead on the Frenchman’s serve with a fine forehand pass.  Tsonga begins to look a bit deflated, directing a backhand volley into the alley as his shoulders sag.  But, impressively, he saves all three break points–the last with an ace.  A fourth chance vanishes with a titanic forehand down the line, and another ace concludes the gritty hold.

Federer 7-6 4-6 7-6 2*-3:  With a new spring in his step after that miracle, Tsonga rockets a cross-court forehand return and a stunning backhand off the baseline to position himself at double break point.  Federer angles a forehand elegantly to wrong-foot his opponent on the first, and the second vanishes when the Frenchman slips behind the baseline.  Like his opponent, he avoids falling behind an early break in the fourth set.  Tsonga then misses a backhand slice just long on the second point of the next game, continuing an errant passage from him.  Federer attempts to exploit that trend by extending the next few rallies, but to no avail.

Federer 7-6 4-6 7-6 3*-4:  A tepid stretch of returning from Tsonga aids the start of Federer’s next effort to hold, with the exception of one bullet forehand return that thrusts the Swiss star onto his back foot.  When a wild forehand from the Swiss takes the game to deuce, he strikes back with a solid first serve.  The next two points swing into Tsonga’s column with fearlessly aggressive tennis, first  forehand bombed off the sideline, then a cross-court backhand that opens the court.  Federer crucially misses his first serve on the next point before losing an extended baseline exchange with a forehand error that surrenders a break to the Frenchman.  But the Swiss spares no effort in mounting his threat to break back, helped by a forehand error from Tsonga on a routine ball.  An ace precedes another forehand error, this time slapped into the net.  Two break points loom for Federer, who converts the second with a backhand miss from his opponent as his hopes of a fifth set recede for the moment.

Even sets 7-6 4-6 7-6 3-6:  Spared the specter of that deciding stanza, Federer finds his first serve more frequently in the next game.  Tsonga lashes a cross-court backhand for a rare clean winner from that wing, and he keeps his cool in reeling off a triple set of passing shots to set up a break point.  Revealing his confidence, another ferocious two-hander offers him an opportunity to close out the point at the net, which he does with a stylish volley.  The set now rests on the Frenchman’s racket, and a backhand down the line from Federer subjects him to immediate pressure at 15-30.  That pressure does not discomfit Tsonga, who again passes the Swiss at the net with his backhand and outlasts him in a long rally to reach set point.  There, he crushes an ace out wide to force a final set.

Federer 7-6 4-6 7-6 3-6 2-1*:  A strong service game from Federer opened the final set, halting his opponent’s momentum in its tracks.  He quickly leaps ahead 15-30 on his first return game, only to see the next two points slip away quickly.  But Federer does bring the score back to deuce before consecutive aces stifle his threat.  The Swiss then holds own serve at love to keep his nose ahead.

Federer 7-6 4-6 7-6 3-6 4-1*:  Continuing to plow further into Tsonga’s serve than the seventh seed can on his, Federer moves to 0-30 in the fourth game.  Two break points soon follow on a careless backhand error, and Federer needs just one when another backhand error came his way.  A beautifully angled smash extricates him from a difficult situation on the first point.  Despite a botched volley, Federer hangs onto his serve without facing serious pressure.

Federer 7-6 4-6 7-6 3-6 5-2*:  Fatigue seems to drain Tsonga’s energy by this stage, and he tosses in two routine errors to start the next game. Federer receives a bit of assistance from the net cord on a point after which Tsonga, now on his side of the net, playfully brandishes his racket on him.  The Frenchman erases both the break points, in part because of generosity from the Swiss.  To his credit, Tsonga continues to bludgeon groundstrokes on both wings.  He feathers a drop shot that looked on the verge of taking him to 0-30, only to see Federer scoop it up for a perfectly paced winner in a corner before going on to hold.

FINAL:  Federer wins 7-6(4) 4-6 7-6(4) 3-6 6-3:  Some superb cat-and-mouse tennis from all over the court defines the next game, in which Tsonga saves three match points despite shot-making from a Federer at the peak of his powers.  Five deuces later, and another match point saved, Tsonga holds in a remarkable display of resilience.  But the match now shifts to Federer’s racket, where he exploits Tsonga’s vulnerability on low balls to his backhand.  Tsonga continues to challenge by crushing every groundstroke that he sees, but Federer’s first serve sees him through on his fifth match point in an enthralling five-set thriller under the lights of Rod Laver Arena.  The second seed advances to a semifinal against the much more rested Andy Murray on Friday night in Melbourne.