Matteo Berrettini faces a tough start to his Paris Masters campaign as he takes on home favourite and former champion, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the second round on Wednesday.
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Berrettini currently sits in eighth and final qualifying position in the ATP’s Race to London, which determines the players that qualify for the prestigious Nitto ATP Finals, but there is little room for error for the Italian, with a large chasing pack waiting to pounce on any slip-ups from the 23-year-old.
Berrettini currently has 2670 points, just 130 clear of ninth placed Roberto Bautista-Agut, and 310 points ahead of Gael Monfils, who is in tenth position. David Goffin, Fabio Fognini, Diego Schwartzman, Stan Wawrinka, John Isner and Alex De Minaur can all still qualify if results go their way in Paris.
The Nitto ATP Finals wouldn’t have been on been anywhere near the top of Berrettini’s priorities at the start of the season, but having come so close, he will be disappointed if he misses out at the final hurdle.
The Italian began the season outside the top-50, but he heads into Paris as the newest top-ten player on the tour, after cracking that elite group on Monday. A fantastic year has included title runs in Budapest and Stuttgart, a runner-up finish in Munich, and a host of semi-finals, including a maiden major semi at the US Open. He also made the last four in Sofia, Halle, and in his two most recent tournaments in Shanghai and Vienna, stepping up his push for a spot at the year-end Finals. That semi-final in Shanghai was his first at Masters 1000 level, and another one in Paris, where he’s making his debut, will do very nicely for the Italian.
He faces a difficult first hurdle, as he plays local favourite, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the second round.
While Berrettini is playing the Paris Masters for the first time, Tsonga is a veteran at this event, as this will be his 13th main draw appearance.
The local favourite has enjoyed some fine moments at this tournament, winning the title in 2008, and making the final in 2011 (lost to Roger Federer). However, he headed into the 2019 edition on a three-match losing streak at the Masters 1000 meet, following opening round exits in 2017 and 2018, but he stopped that run on Monday, coming through a tough opener against Andrey Rublev in three sets.
The former champion hammered 20 aces past Rublev, winning 77% of points on his first serve, and staying clutch on the big points, as he saved nine of the eleven break points he faced. He got broken twice in the first set as Rublev took the lead, but he did not drop serve again in the remainder of the match, coming through 4-6 7-5 6-4 after two hours and 24 minutes to pick up his first Masters 1000 match win since May 2017.
“I’m delighted to have won today. Everything was not perfect, obviously, but the most important thing is to have won. In the last two sets, I played good tennis,” Tsonga said after the win.
Tsonga last won a Masters 1000 match at the Madrid Open in 2017, when he defeated Andrey Kuznetsov in the opening round, but he lost his next seven matches at that level, before snapping the streak with victory over Rublev on Paris on Wednesday. Of course, he’s missed a hefty chunk of those Masters 1000 tournaments due to recent injuries and health problems.
He played only one in 2018 (in Paris), having missed seven months of the season with a knee injury, while Paris is only his fourth Masters main draw in 2019.
A former world No. 5, Tsonga started the year outside the top-200, following his lengthy spell on the sidelines from the previous season, but he has done quite well to work his way back up to No. 35 in the world. The Frenchman has won two titles this season- Montpellier and Metz- while he’s made semi-finals in Brisbane and Marrakech. He has also played a few Challengers as he’s looked to build up his form and his ranking, winning in Cassis and making the semi-finals in Orleans in a very productive September.
Tsonga did not play at all in the Asian swing, while he produced an ordinary 1-2 record on the indoor hard courts of Antwerp and Vienna, but he remains a major threat to Berrettini’s ambitions, as he faces the Italian for the first time in Paris on Wednesday.
Tsonga and Berrettini share many similarities in their styles of play, with both men possessing huge serves and forehands, good hands at the net, but iffy backhands. There are a few differences- Tsonga being the more athletic, and Berrettini may be just edging it in the backhand department given his ability to mix it up with a decent slice.
It has all the makings of a tight, serve-dominated contest, with just a few opportunities on offer. It will come down to who can execute better on the serve and forehand and expose the other’s backhand more frequently; and crucially, take those chances when they arrive.
Matteo Berrettini vs Jo-Wilfried Tsonga is live from Paris on Wednesday, 30 October from 8:30pm local time/ 7:30pm GMT