Tsonga sizzles in SA final

2009-02-08 00:00

IN an all-French affair, top seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga beat surprise finalist and number five seed Jeremy Chardy 6-4 7-6 (7/5) Sunday to win the SA Tennis Open at Montecasino in Johannesburg.

Chardy praised his opponent afterwards. “Jo played very well and today he was too good, he played the big moments better. It should be a good year for him if he maintains this form.

“It is my first ever final and while I would like to have won I am happy with my achievements in South Africa,” Chardy said.

Tsonga thanked the crowd for their support and gave Chardy credit. “This is a special moment for me and Jeremy made me work hard for it,” he said.

Despite world number 14 Tsonga winning the R5 million event - the first ATP World Tour event held in South Africa in 13 years - and earning R800 000 plus 250 ATP singles ranking points, it was as much a triumph for Chardy (R410 00 and 150 points), who pulled off a shock semi-final victory on Saturday.

Both players struggled to convert their break points in the final, but Tsonga recovered in the second set from being on the brink of Chardy going 6-5 up with his serve to come and the chance for the underdog to draw level at a set apiece. Now the pressure was on Chardy to stay in the match but he held his nerve in the face of two championship points to force a second set tiebreak.

But like the first set, Tsonga played the big points best to take the tiebreak 7-5 and with it the title.

In the first set, Tsonga had to wait before getting the measure of Chardy while the less-fancied man couldn’t take advantage of the top seed’s service, holding three break points in the first five games, while the fifth game saw Tsonga hold serve after deuce for the third time. The 10th game was the clincher as Chardy lost his serve after both had held serve up to that point.

The final was watched by a sell-out crowd including many big names in SA sport such as legendary former Bok scrumhalf Joost van der Westhuizen and current SA women’s hockey captain Marsha Marescia and an unusual occurrence was the playing of the French and SA national anthems before the start.

On Saturday, the likeable Chardy had won a two-hour-40 minute epic against second seed David Ferrer of Spain in the second semi-final, eventually winning 1-6 7-6 (11-9) 7-6 (7-4).

Ferrer, world-ranked 13th to Chardy’s 61, had five match points in the second set and the realisation of what might have been was reflected in his explosion of rage after the match was over.

Tsonga, though had no hassles in accounting for Frederico Gil of Portugal in a straight-sets canter.

Earlier Sunday, the entertaining doubles final produced a seesaw three-set battle lasting one-and-three-quarter hours before the oldest couple in the tournament, James Cerretani of the U.S. and Belgium’s Dick Norman, triumphed 6-7 (7/9) 6-2 14-12.

In this ATP World Tour tournament, doubles matches that went to three sets were decided on a first-to-10 points final set, or the first to win by two clear points from 10 points onwards.

There were five championship points in all, two to popular SA player Rik de Voest and partner Ashley Fisher, and three to their opponents.

The fifth championship point sealed the outcome as the unseeded Cerretani/Norman duo made the most of their third to clinch the $25 500 first prize and 250 ATP doubles ranking points, while the fourth-seeded South African De Voest and his Australian partner Ashley Fisher had to settle for the $13 000 runner’s up prize-money and 150 points.

RESULTS

Singles final: 1-Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (Fra) bt 5-Jeremy Chardy (Fra) 6-4 7-6 (7/5).

Doubles final: James Cerretani (USA)/Dick Norman (Bel) bt 4-Rik de Voest (Rsa)/Ashley Fisher (Aus) 6-7 (7/9) 6-2 14-12

Singles semi-finals: 1-Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (Fra) bt Frederico Gil (Por) 6-3 6-4; 5-Jeremy Chardy (Fra) bt 2-David Ferrer (Esp) 1-6 7-6 (11-9) 7-6 (6-4).

Doubles semi-finals: James Cerretani (USA)/Dick Norman (Bel) bt David Ferrer (Esp)/Ivan Navarro (Esp) 6-3 6-2; 4-Rik de Voest (Rsa)/Ashley Fisher (Aus) bt 1-Jeff Coetzee (Rsa)/Wesley Moodie (Rsa) 7-5 6-4.

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