Sixth seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga takes on the big-serving Gilles Muller for a spot in the ABN Amro World Tennis Tournament quarter-finals in Rotterdam on Wednesday night.
Having advanced to at least the quarter-finals of all three tournaments he’s contested so far in 2017, enigmatic Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga aims to continue the trend when he faces veteran Gilles Muller of Luxembourg on Wednesday night in Rotterdam.
Targeting a first ATP World Tour title in 18 months at Rotterdam this week, sixth seed Tsonga advanced into the second round with a hard-fought 6-4 7-6(2) victory over young Greek wildcard Stefanos Tsitsipas on Tuesday
. It was a tough contest against an unfamiliar opponent for Tsonga, who was pegged back by the 18-year-old Tsitsipas while serving for the match at 5-3 in the second set. Tsonga managed to regroup and take the ensuing tiebreak, but the 2011 Rotterdam finalist admitted it was a challenging encounter.
"It was difficult, as I did not know him at all,” Tsonga said. “That’s unusual on the Tour, never seeing somebody at all. I didn’t know where to play at the start or what to expect."
It’s been an encouraging beginning to 2017 for Tsonga after he struggled throughout large patches of last year. However, while he’s defeated the players ranked lower than him, he will be hoping to produce better displays against those around or higher than him in the rankings. Tsonga was defeated in straight sets by Tomas Berdych and Stan Wawrinka in the quarter-finals of Doha and the Australian Open, while he was outlasted by Alexander Zverev in the semi-finals of Montpellier last week.
Tsonga faces another challenging clash in the form of Gilles Muller on Wednesday night.
Gilles Muller (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)
Muller has enjoyed a superb start to 2017, highlighted by capturing his first ever ATP World Tour title at the age of 33 at the Apia International in Sydney just prior to the Australian Open. It was a welcome and much-deserved breakthrough for Muller, who had lost five previous finals dating all the way back to 2004, including two last year on the grass of s-Hertogenbosch and Newport.
Also a semi-finalist at Sydney, Sofia and Nottingham last year, along with quarter-final finishes at Queen’s Club, Metz and Tokyo, Muller is another one of those players that is producing their best tennis well into their 30s. The 33-year-old’s destructive serve always ensures that he will be tough to topple, while his baseline game has improved significantly over the years, especially the backhand.
Muller comes into this clash on the back of a second round loss to Milos Raonic at the Australian Open and a quarter-final run at the Sofia Open last week, falling to last year’s champion Roberto Bautista Agut in two tight sets. Muller earned his spot in the second round of Rotterdam with a straightforward 6-3 6-2 victory over local wildcard Tallon Griekspoor on Tuesday.
Muller actually leads his head-to-head over Tsonga 3-2 at all levels - however it’s not really that big a surprise. Tsonga’s primary weakness is his return of serve, particularly off the backhand wing. Muller exploits this extremely effectively when he sends down his lethal delivery, as illustrated through a straight sets win at the Rio Olympics last year. Indoor conditions suit both men and their big games and each are in pretty good form. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a couple of tiebreaks on Wednesday night, and it will be whoever holds their nerve and wins the crucial points who prevails.