Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga bounced back from a disappointing year to upset Rafael Nadal 6-4, 0-6, 7-5, to earn his spot into the Shanghai Rolex Masters final, where he will now face world number one Novak Djokovic. Despite being backed by a clearly partisan Shanghai crowd and winning more points, Nadal was unable to fend off the gutsy challenge from the 16th seed and succumbed during a nail biting third set.
Tsonga Takes Opening Set
The majority of the first set went Tsonga's way. He hit a huge variety of baseline winners, not allowing Nadal to settle down and find his rhythm. After slipping early in the first game, the Spaniard missed a smash in the fifth (that would have been routine for him four years ago), to give Tsonga his third breakpoint, which the Frenchman easily converted to win the first set 6-4.
Nadal Drops A Bagel On The Frenchman
However, even if Nadal is just a mere shadow of his past, he's still a fighter, and he absolutely humiliated Tsonga to close out the second set with a mind blowing 6-0 scoreline that included three breaks of serve by the Spaniard and 21 unforced errors by the French number three. The crowd went crazy on set point, as it truly looked like that Nadal was back.
Tsonga Provides Third Set Dramatics
Their excitement was short lived though. The 3rd set was extremely close, with just one or two crucial points making all the difference. Although the Frenchman was unable to covert three breakpoints in the third game, he made up for it as he finally broke at for 6-5 with a spectacular topspin forehand that thoroughly confused Nadal. While serving for the match, Tsonga hit a fantastic hotshot, diving for a forehand volley before jumping to return Nadal's forehand, to bring up match point (watch it here). After that, it was almost too simple, as Nadal misread a backhand to give Tsonga the match after 2 hours and 15 minutes, his biggest win of the year.
On the whole though, it was a much improved performance by Nadal as compared to the earlier part of the year, and he seemed much happier with himself at the press conference today, stating that "I lost against a player who played very well," said Nadal. "I congratulate him. He was a little bit better than me and that's why he is in the final. In general, it has been a very positive two tournaments, [reaching the] final and semi-finals in tournaments that are not easy for me. I was able to win a lot of matches, but not only win matches, but play at a very good level again. I think it has been one of the most positive two tournaments in a row on hard court of the year without a doubt. The feelings are that I am getting better and better."
With this win, Tsonga improved his head-to-head against Nadal to 4-8, with their last meeting being at Monte Carlo in 2013. By beating Nadal, Tsonga reached his 22nd tour-level final, fourth Masters final and will be bidding for his 2nd Masters title (won his first at the Rogers Cup last year). After reaching the finals at the China Open last week, Rafael Nadal has cemented his position as part of the elite eight at the ATP World Tour Finals in London, and Tsonga will be looking to close the gap on the eighth man, David Ferrer, for a spot in the final.