Both Frenchman Jo Wilfried Tsonga and Spaniard David Ferrer stand on the precipice of achieving something momentous. One of these two men will advance to the finals of the 2013 French Open in Paris.
After surviving the semifinal round, there is only one more match to win before achieving a dream—winning the French Open championship.
For Tsonga it means redemption, winning a title no Frenchman has won since Yannick Noah captured the crown in 1983, 30 years ago. After upending Roger Federer in the quarterfinals, belief in Tsonga's chances magnified two-fold.
Touted by sports writers everywhere as the best of a very talented corps of French players, Tsonga can realize his ambition to win the trophy for himself and his country.
For Ferrer, sitting in the No. 5 spot for the past few seasons, the opportunity to make his mark in history by winning a major on clay is at hand. It will, no doubt, be his best and last chance to be a Grand Slam winner because clay remains his best surface.
This year, either Ferrer or Tsonga will find themselves following in Swede Robin Soderling’s footsteps, trying to reach this year's French Open Championship match for first time.
Who has the best chance of making the final? Consider the following analysis.
In his semifinal match against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, David Ferrer will not be facing Rafael Nadal or Novak Djokovic. Since Tsonga eliminated Federer in the quarterfinals, the Spaniard will not face Federer, someone Ferrer has never defeated.
Moreover, in his head to head with Tsonga, Ferrer leads 2-1, having defeated the Frenchman in Rome on clay in 2010 and then again on hardcourts during the 2012 quarterfinals of the Paris Masters.
Tsonga defeated Ferrer in straight sets during the Round of 16 at the 2011 Wimbledon Championship.
But, no Frenchman has won at Stade Roland Garros in 30 years while the Spaniards have dominated on the clay, as expected.
Based on Ferrer’s advantage and success on clay plus his lead in their head-to-head series, you must give the nod to Ferrer to advance to this year’s French Open final—based on history alone.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga began his French Open campaign by defeating Aljaz Bedene of Slovenia in straight sets. He followed that by upending a resurgent Jarkko Nieminen in three.
In the third round, the Frenchman dismissed fellow Frenchman Jeremy Chardy, without dropping a set. The fourth round brought similar results with Tsonga defeating Victor Troicki 6-3, 6-3, 6-3.
On Tuesday, motivated by his previous wins, Tsonga upset Roger Federer who ultimately had no answers for Tsonga's power. He never allowed Federer into their quarterfinal match.
So far, the Frenchman has barely broken a sweat. To date Tsonga has not been tested. He's won with outstanding serves, as well as powerful and accurate groundstrokes. Even more important is his mental game, focused, calm and always keeping him in the moment.
David Ferrer followed a similar path through his portion of the draw. He's not dropped a set, spending less than nine hours on court so far. What is more the Spaniard entered the French Open with a 20-5 clay-court record.
Ferrer began by taking out Australian Marinko Matosevic in straight sets followed by a second-round defeat of countryman Albert Montanes. In the third round Ferrer eliminated another Spaniard as Feliciano Lopez proved to be no match for the fiery Ferrer, losing 1-6, 5-7, 4-6.
With bodies piling up behind him, many believed Ferrer’s next opponent, big-serving Kevin Anderson, might upset Ferrer. But the No. 4 seed sent Anderson packing defeating him without dropping a set.
During his quarterfinal contest on Tuesday pitted against countryman Tommy Robredo who’d endured three five-set matches in a row. Robredo folded easily, 6-2, 6-1, 6-1, barely running on fumes.
Ferrer is fresh as the proverbial daisy heading into his semifinal contest. Ferrer plays with ferocity, moving quickly into the court, taking the ball early and making opponents pay dearly for short balls they drop in his path.
Ultimately, the two men come out dead after comparing their respective paths to the French Open semifinals.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga will be confronted not only by legions of screaming French fans, but also with history staring him directly in the face. No Frenchman has won this tournament in 30 years, since Yannick Noah did it in 1983. The pressure on the Frenchman to accomplish this feat will be enormous.
So far, Tsonga has played with quiet confidence, not overreacting, not pumping his fist and stirring up the crowds. Keeping his emotions under control has so far allowed Tsonga to remain focused on his primary goal—winning matches. He will need to do the same in order to defeat Ferrer during the semifinals.
The cumulative pressure of trying to win this momentous match along with possibility of letting up after getting by Federer on Tuesday may prove to be X-factors in Tsonga’s French Open semifinal.
David Ferrer, on the other hand, advanced to the semifinals in last year’s French Open where he met and was defeated soundly by his old nemesis countryman Rafael Nadal 6-2, 6-2, 6-1.
But this year he is not facing Nadal, Novak Djokovic or Roger Federer. He is facing a man he has defeated before—a man he leads in their head to head, 2-1.
Ferrer, however, will be facing enormous pressures of his own. The world No. 5 has readily admitted that he feels he cannot defeat the top seeded players in Grand Slams. At age 31, winning the title at Roland Garros in 2013 will no doubt be his best chance to capture a major—more specifically the French Open.
Ferrer who has eliminated power players, big servers and finesse players to reach the French Open semifinals could conceivably seize up with pressure and self-doubt becoming X-factors in his semifinal match with Tsonga.
If Tsonga can maintain his equilibrium on the court with a firm grasp on his emotions, the Frenchman certainly has the bigger game—the bigger serve and the bigger groundstrokes.
But Tsonga needs to make his first serves count and not allow the speedy Spaniard the opportunity to out counter-punch him on the afternoon.
While most will expect the Frenchman to win with the crowd behind him and momentum propelling him toward the finish line, distractions and wasted emotions might be his undoing.
Tsonga needs to take a lesson from his own page and treat Ferrer exactly as he treated Federer on Tuesday afternoon by playing exactly as if he expects to emerge as the winner.
If Ferrer convinces himself that he will win this match, the Spaniard has an excellent chance of succeeding during his upcoming semifinal contest with Tsonga.
The Spaniard is accustomed to crowds screaming for the opposition to win. But, nothing much ruffles his concentration as he scrambles for every loose ball on the court.
What Ferrer needs to watch for are signs of a let up on Tsonga’s part, hoping the Frenchman will become over-confident or over-excited in this quest to reach the final.
It will not matter at what point Tsonga fades because Ferrer will never relent or give in during the match. If the Frenchman takes his foot off the gas even once, the Spaniard will take full advantage.
On a given day, like many of the players Ferrer defeated to this point, the Spaniard cannot always outplay power hitters, but Ferrer can certainly outlast them. He will hope to do the same against Tsonga.
Ferrer will never defeat himself on clay as long as he believes he can win the match.
Considering all the factors involved, an obvious answer as to which player will win the semifinal contest between Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and David Ferrer is not readily apparent.
After studying the results of the tournament so far, it seems both men have an equal shot at advancing to the final.
Ultimately the conclusion becomes that the match is not so much Ferrer’s to win as it is Tsonga’s to lose—something the Frenchman has done before in the final stages of Grand Slams.
Tsonga has the bigger game and the better serve and groundstrokes. With his new-found ability to concentrate and remain in the moment, the nod must go his way in this match.
The match will go to four sets with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga advancing to his first French Open final as the French crowd stomps and waves its approval.