In the biggest, one that once looked unlikely, upset of the tournament, the no. 1 seed Roger Federer was stunned by Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the historic quarter final of Montreal Masters, 6-7 (5), 6-1, 6-7 (3) on Friday. This is the first time Federer has lost a match with 5-1 lead in the 3rd set, with a double fault. The match lasted two hours and 19 minutes.
"I did not feel real good—5-1 down and Roger playing well and I had no solutions," said Tsonga. "I just told myself 'You have to hit the ball one more time than him,' and I did it."
Right from the beginning in the first set, the seventh-ranked Frenchman, popularly known as the Ali of tennis due to his resemblance, appeared to be in his zone, serving big both first and second, firing forehand and backhand cross-court shots, proving equally infallible at the net, and allowing Federer only two break opportunities in the entire set.
Federer could have converted at least one of those two break chances he had in the first set, as the first one was on second serve, but in the course of exchange of shots, he overhit an easy shot from inside the court. In the first-set tie break, Federer, serving below the par, could not capitalize on his experience and great tie-break record.
Federer started the second set strongly. He converted one of the two break points that he got in the second game, courtesy to Tsonga, who missed overhead smash at the net. The Swiss held serve in the next game and quickly ran ahead wth 3-0, and, after that, there was no turning back in the set. Tsonga had hurt his right arm and had to call his physiotherapist in the change over. The Frenchman won his first and only game of the set on his return after the treatment.
The third set began exactly the same way as the 2nd set, Tsonga struggling to get his first serve in, losing the sting of his second serve, and unforced errors exponentially increasing in all departments, forehand, backhand, and at the net. The seventh-seed got broken second time in the third game, as he shanked his forehand in the net.
Early ominous signs started appearing in Federer's game in the fourth game of the third set, with three easy errors and facing a deuce, but he closed out the game with a nice forehand shot from inside the court, which gave him a quick 4-0 lead. By the fifth game, Tsonga's serve was back, and he was on the score board for the first time, trailing 1-4. This is the game in which in-the-zone Tsonga of the first set reappeared, with more ferocity and determination.
Federer still held the serve in the sixth game and led 5-1. Hardly anyone believed that the No. 1 player of the world would lose the match at this point, not even 1 percent of Federer's fans. Even after the first break in the seventh game, few seriously believed that the resurrected Frenchman would turn the match around in 360 degrees, winning five consecutive games.
Tsonga first broke Federer with a solid backhand winner down the line. When 30-40 down in the second opportunity to serve out the match, Federer mishit his backhand and got broken, and, with that, Tsonga leveled the set at 5-5. In the next game, the Frenchman lost only one point and won the game with an unreturnable serve.
After Tsonga held his service game, the 12th game of the 3rd set was unusual, with the Swiss facing 3 match points on his serve, 0-40. At this point, a lot of viewers must have given up hope on Federer, but he survived the game to force a tie breaker, thanks to the three consecutive backhand mishits and a couple of forehand errors from Tsonga.
This second tie breaker was no better than the first, with Tsonga's taking early mini break and 2-0 lead, but Federer leveled it at 2-2 right away. After that, the Swiss won only won point, losing the match in double fault, to everyone's surprise and possibly his own. Federer's serve was his main weapon through out the match but deserted him in the most crucial moments, in both tie breakers. At the end of the match, he handled the loss with an uncanny half smile, meaningful and self-reflective about how he lost a match that he thought he had it under his belt.
Through out the match, Federer used short-angle slice volley in regular intervals, which was never seen before in that frequency, and his ground strokes were not bad, either, if not quite error-free, but that was not enough to quash the unflinching Frenchman. Federer lost the match, not because he played poorly or he could have done certain things differently. It is just that the Frenchman was on fire at the last second of the match, and surprisingly he was able to stay the course until the end without blinking for a second, with a focus that is rare in most circumstances.
"It's obviously disappointing but you know, that's what Jo does—he doesn't make a return for an hour and then he puts in a few and than all of a sudden he's back in the match," Federer said. "I should never have allowed it but it happened, so it's a pity."
Definitely Federer's goal was not to win a couple of matches once he entered the tournament, "It's great to get some matches in ahead of Cincinnati and the U.S. Open. But my goal wasn't to just to play matches and do press conferences."
"The whole trip here was to do well and try to win the tournament," Federer said.
Under the circumstances that he played, with the newly born twins and the time he had to spend at the hospital, nights and days, there is not much for Federer to complain about the overall result of this tournament, as he will be improving on his last year's ranking points. And the Swiss will have more time to practice and prepare for Cincinnati Masters and, most significantly, the bigger prize, the US Open.
This is the first time that the eight top-ranked players in the world have played in the quarterfinals of a tournament since the ATP world rankings began in 1973. This indicates the depth of field and how consistently the top players are producing results.