Djokovic entered Friday having lost just one match on the ATP World Tour. BBC broadcaster Jeff Tarango (via BBC Tennis) argued his level of dominance in the men's game warrants its own designation in the dictionary:
BBC Tennis @bbctennis
Djokovic has become a verb according to @JeffTarango. Hear the action, in action. 📻: https://t.co/cDnsojna2H https://t.co/FqCeodCWbr2016-3-18 21:24:49
Tsonga gave Djokovic everything he could handle in the first set. The 30-year-old Frenchman was excellent on serve, winning 75 percent of his first-service points and saving four of Djokovic's five break-point opportunities. As TennisTV showed, he was also capable of launching some devastating groundstrokes from the baseline:
Tennis TV @TennisTV
Watch! This is what @tsonga7 is capable of when he unleashes that forehand. A monster helps him break #Djokovic. https://t.co/QreunZPCbI2016-3-18 21:59:33
Yet, the fact that Tsonga lost the set demonstrated the futility of facing off against Djokovic at times. Almost everything can go right, even for a player as talented as Tsonga, and it still isn't enough to make anything more than a dent against the 28-year-old Serbian star.
This wasn't one of the most dominant performances of Djokovic's career; he was merely metronomic in his consistency. He had 11 winners and 14 unforced errors in the first set, compared to 10 and 24, respectively, for Tsonga.
Perhaps the tennis gods looked favorably upon Djokovic after he admitted one of Tsonga's shots hit him in the first set, which was missed by the chair umpire, via the tournament's official Twitter account:
BNP Paribas Open @BNPPARIBASOPEN
#Djokovic calls himself for touching a #Tsonga out ball. Chair umpire didn't see. Sportsmanship barometer: HIGH https://t.co/lDFdST3Cdu2016-3-18 22:21:11
The second set played out almost exactly as the first had. Neither player hardly budged an inch on serve, with each surrendering a service break. A tiebreaker was the only way to separate the two.
Tsonga enjoyed some promising stretches, but over the course of the match, he simply wasn't up to the task of toppling the tournament's top seed. He was merely very good when he needed to be great. Tsonga pushed Djokovic hard, but the Serb never had to hit top gear in order to prevail.
His win sets up a marquee semifinal clash between him and Rafael Nadal, who beat Kei Nishikori earlier in the day. The two have played each other 47 times on the ATP World Tour, with Djokovic owning a slight 24-23 edge.
Their rivalry has been more one-sided of late, though. Nadal's last win came at the 2014 French Open, and he's 1-9 in their last 10 meetings. During that stretch, Djokovic has dropped a combined total of four sets.
The match will take on an added importance with the 2016 French Open a little over two months away. Djokovic is still looking for his first title at Roland Garros to complete the career Grand Slam. Somewhat ironically, he's one of only two men to beat Nadal in Paris, but his finals loss to Stan Wawrinka obscured the shine of last year's triumph.
Djokovic will be looking to get an early edge on Nadal when they meet in Indian Wells, while Nadal will hope to register his biggest win of the 2016 season.
"He was just solid," said Tsonga of his opponent, per Nathan Brown of the Desert Sun. "He didn't give up one point in either of those tiebreaks, which is not like me. I gave some up, and that made the difference in the end."
"It was very close, but I can take a lot of positives from today," said Djokovic. "The fact that I played someone who was playing very good throughout the week and who has a big serve and plays very quick forehands, that gave me a lot of trouble. Today, to win in straight sets and in two tiebreaks, I think that's going to help with my confidence."
Djokovic's opponent is already looking ahead to Saturday's semifinal.
"Let's try my best tomorrow," Nadal said, per the tournament's official website. "Let's keep playing with the same energy. And we'll see what's going on. I know Novak is playing unbelievable, so it's difficult. But I am here to keep enjoying, keep trying my best, and keep playing with the right energy."