Novak Djokovic vs. Jo Wilfried Tsonga Australian Open Final Preview

Posted on January 27, 2008

This is the 40th Australian Open of the Open Era and the 96th Australian Championships since the tournament began in 1905. Overall, this is the 160th Grand Slam tournament of the Open Era. While this is the 21st year that the tournament has been played at Melbourne Park, this is the first year that it has been played on the new blue Plexicushion courts.

Novak Djokovic and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga are both contesting their first Australian Open final and accordingly, the winner will be the 24th Australian Open champion. The Australian Open will equal Roland Garros for the highest number of different winners among the four Grand Slam events.

The winner of this year’s final will become the 50th man to win a Grand Slam title in the Open Era, and the tenth man to win his first major at the Australian Open.

Today marks the fourth successive meeting between European men in a Grand Slam final. Fernando Gonzalez was the last non-European men’s Grand Slam finalist, being runner-up at the 2007 Australian Open. This will be the 15th successive Grand Slam tournament won by a European man.

This will be the first Grand Slam since the 2005 Australian Open not won by Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal, the pair have won the last 11 majors before this one between them.

This will also be the first major since the 2006 Australian Open, where the champion has not successfully defended his title.

In picking the winner of the 2008 Australian Open final, recent history would seem to favour the man who played his semifinal first, in this case Tsonga, who reached the final a day before Djokovic. Since and including 1997, the eventual champion has been the man who completed his semifinal first in eight out of eleven years.

Djokovic is guaranteed to stay at No. 3 on the post-Australian Open ATP Ranking, regardless of the outcome of today’s final. With the exception of one week, he has been ranked No. 3 since 9 July 2007.

Tsonga is projected to rise to No. 18 if he finishes as runner-up and No. 9 if he wins the title, improving his current career-high of No. 38, having been ranked No. 338 two years ago at the start of 2006.

This is the first Grand Slam final since the 2003 US Open (Juan Carlos Ferrero vs Andy Roddick) in which the two finalists are meeting for the first time.

With a combined age of almost 43½ years, this is the youngest Grand Slam final since Lleyton Hewitt played David Nalbandian at 2002 Wimbledon, and the youngest Australian Open final since 1987 when Stefan Edberg defeated Pat Cash in 1987 in a clash of 21-year-olds.

Djokovic is the sixth-youngest man to reach the Australian Open final in the Open Era and if he wins today, he will become the fourth youngest champion. Tsonga is the 13th youngest finalist here in the Open Era and will become the eighth youngest Australian Open champion if he takes the title.

Both players were semifinalists in the boys’ singles event here – Tsonga in 2002 and 2003, and Djokovic in 2004.

Djokovic on Tsonga: “Tsonga is coming up. He's just [an] amazing athlete. He's been performing some impressive tennis in these two weeks. I've seen many of his matches. As I think everybody, I was impressed with the way he plays.”

Tsonga was in confident mood, when asked if anyone could beat him, “I don't know. But I will do my best on the court, so I know it's going to be difficult to beat me.”

DJOKOVIC is through to his first Australian Open final and his second consecutive Grand Slam final.

Djokovic reached his first Grand Slam final at the 2007 US Open, losing to Roger Federer 76 76 64 after holding five set points in the first set and another two in the second.

In his semifinal here, Djokovic became the first man other than Rafael Nadal to defeat Roger Federer in a major since Marat Safin at the 2005 Australian Open, defeating the world No. 1 75 63 76. This was the first time that the world No. 1 has lost in straight sets since losing to Gustavo Kuerten at 2004 Roland Garros, which was also the last time that Federer lost before the semifinals.

At 20 years, 250 days (age at the end of the tournament), Djokovic is the sixth-youngest finalist here in the Open Era. Three men younger than Djokovic have gone on to win the Australian Open title.

Djokovic has advanced to the final without dropping a set, the 9th man to do so here in the Open Era, and the 5th since the Australian Open became a full 128 draw in 1988. At last year’s Australian Open, Roger Federer became the first man to win a Grand Slam title without dropping a set since Bjorn Borg at 1980 Roland Garros.

Djokovic became the only Serbian man to appear in a Grand Slam final at the 2007 US Open. At 2007 Roland Garros, he became only the second Serbian man in the Open Era to reach a Grand Slam semifinal, after Slobodan Zivojinovic.

This is the first time in Open Era history that two Serbian players have featured in the final at the same Grand Slam. Ana Ivanovic plays Maria Sharapova in the women’s singles final on Saturday. At 2007 Roland Garros, Ivanovic became the first Serbian man or woman to reach a Grand Slam final.

This is Djokovic’s fourth Australian Open. His previous best result here was a round of 16 finish when he lost to Federer. In 2005-06, Djokovic lost in the first round.

In reaching the final Djokovic has conceded just 53 games. Of those players playing six complete best-of-five-set matches, to reach the final here, Michael Chang holds the record for fewest games conceded in advancing to the Australian Open final (48 in 1996). [*where none of the matches were won by retirement, walkover or bye.]

The player to concede the fewest games in winning the Australian Open, when playing seven complete best-of-five-set matches was Jim Courier in 1993. Courier dropped 71 games, although this is less than 1996 runner-up Michael Chang, who despite losing in the final to Boris Becker, conceded 68.

Djokovic has reached his second Grand Slam final in his 13th major.

Djokovic is on a ten-match winning streak coming into today’s match, equalling his longest unbeaten streak, set when winning two matches in a Davis Cup World Group play-off tie for Serbia vs. Australia, winning the title at Vienna and advancing to the semifinals at AMS Madrid in September-October last year. Prior to arriving in Melbourne, Djokovic teamed up with Jelena Jankovic to represent Serbia in the 2008 Hopman Cup, winning all four of his singles matches. Serbia lost to USA 2-1 in the final.

Prior to defeating Arnaud Clement at the 2008 Hopman Cup, Djokovic was on a three-match losing streak against Frenchmen and has a 16-8 overall win-loss record against players from the nation, 4-1 in Grand Slam play. This is the first time that he has faced a Frenchman at the Australian Open, having faced at least one at the other three majors.

In reaching the last four here, Djokovic became the ninth man to reach four or more consecutive Grand Slam semifinals in the Open Era and also the youngest player to complete a set of semifinal appearances at all four majors, of the 16 players to do so in the Open Era.

In all three of his previous semifinals, Djokovic had played a Spaniard – Nadal at 2007 Roland Garros and 2007 Wimbledon and David Ferrer at the 2007 US Open.

Djokovic became the 18th teenager since the inception of the ATP Rankings in 1973 to enter the Top 10 on 19 March 2007 and achieved a career-high ranking of No. 3 on 9 July 2007. He has been ranked No. 3 (with the exception of one week) since that date, and will remain so, regardless of today’s result.

Djokovic is bidding for his eighth career title, and his sixth on hard court today. In 2007, Djokovic became the seventh different player under 21 years old in the last 25 years to capture at least five ATP titles in a season. His five titles included his first two Masters Series titles at AMS Miami and AMS Montreal.

On the way to his second AMS title at 2007 Montreal, Djokovic defeated the top three players in the world in successive rounds from the quarterfinals onwards. This was the first time a player had achieved this since Boris Becker at 1994 Stockholm, though subsequently David Nalbandian repeated this feat at 2007 AMS Madrid.

The last No. 3 seed to advance to the final here was Lleyton Hewitt in 2005, who lost to Marat Safin. The last No. 3 seed to win the Australian Open title was Mats Wilander in 1988.

Djokovic reached the semifinals of the boys’ singles here in 2004 as a 16-year-old. (l. Josselin Ouanna.)

Djokovic is in Melbourne with a support base that includes his parents Srdjan and Dijana, brothers Djordje (age 13) and Marko (age 16 and who played the junior tournament here this week), coach Marian Vajda, manager Allon Khakshouri and his physical trainer, Miljan Amanovic.

TSONGA is through to his first Grand Slam final in just his fifth major, having never previously advanced further than the round of 16 at a Grand Slam. In contrast, Djokovic reached his first final in his 12th major.

Tsonga’s defeat of Nadal equalled the Spaniard’s worst defeat in Grand Slam history, when he also lost seven games to Andy Roddick 60 63 64 in the second round of the 2004 US Open.

By reaching the final, Tsonga’s ranking will jump from No. 38 to No. 18 when the new rankings are released on Monday. If he wins, he will rise to No. 9. Since the ATP rankings were introduced in 1973, the only Grand Slam champion to jump from outside the Top 30 into the Top 10 was Gaston Gaudio, who jumped from No. 44 to No. 10 after winning 2004 Roland Garros.

Tsonga has reached the Australian Open final in just his second appearance here. In the Open Era 16 men have reached the final here in two attempts or fewer, five men winning the title in their debut year.

Tsonga has yet to win a tour-level title, so is now attempting to win the first title of his career at a Grand Slam tournament. Only two men in the Open Era have so far achieved this feat: Mats Wilander won his first career title at 1982 Roland Garros, as did Gustavo Kuerten at 1997 Roland Garros. Like Tsonga, Wilander and Kuerten were unseeded.

Tsonga is the seventh unseeded Australian Open finalist in the Open Era, the last being Marcos Baghdatis in 2006. The only unseeded winner of this event in the Open Era is Mark Edmonson, in 1976.

Tsonga is just the third-ever Frenchman to reach the Australian Open final after Jean Borotra in 1928, the only Frenchman to win the Australian men’s singles championship, and Arnaud Clement, who was runner-up in 2001.

This is France’s least successful Slam, having produced just two finalists here. There has been 19 at Roland Garros, 13 at Wimbledon and six at the US Open.

Five other Frenchmen have advanced to Grand Slam finals in the Open Era with Yannick Noah at 1983 Roland Garros, the only one to go on to win the title. The others were: Patrick Proisy (1972 Roland Garros), Henri Leconte (1988 Roland Garros), Cedric Pioline (1993 US Open and 1997 Wimbledon) and Arnaud Clement (see above).

This is the second time that an unseeded Frenchman has advanced to the final at a Grand Slam in the Open Era, after Cedric Pioline at 1997 Wimbledon, who finished runner-up to Pete Sampras.

At No. 38, Tsonga is the eighth-lowest ranked Australian Open finalist since ATP rankings began in 1973. If he upsets Djokovic today, he will become the second lowest-ranked man to win the title here.

Tsonga’s victory over world No. 2 Nadal was his first over a Top 5 player. The previous highest-ranked player he had defeated was No. 6 Carlos Moya in the first round at 2004 Beijing. His victories here against Murray, Gasquet and Nadal have improved his win-loss record against Top 10 players to 4-4.

Tsonga lies in second place for most aces served so far in this tournament, at 85 (behind Federer at 91). The most he served during one match here was 21, in the third round against Guillermo Garcia-Lopez. He produced his fastest serve of the tournament (221km/h) in his match against Nadal.

With a runners-up cheque of approximately US$600,000, Tsonga is guaranteed to double his career earnings today. If he wins the title, he will almost triple his earnings.

This is the first time that Tsonga has won more than three successive matches at tour level.

France had the highest representation in this year’s Australian Open, with 16 men starting in the men’s draw. Three of those were seeded (No. 8 Richard Gasquet, No. 23 Paul-Henri Mathieu and No. 26 Gilles Simon). Tsonga was France’s fourth-ranked player at the start of the tournament, but will now become the French No. 2 behind Gasquet.

This is only the second time that Tsonga has received direct entry into a Slam, having made his first three appearances at a major as a wild card, debuting at 2005 Roland Garros.

After struggling with back, shoulder and abdominal injuries for most of 2005 and 2006. Tsonga made a breakthrough in 2007, advancing to the round of 16 at Wimbledon and his first ATP semifinal at Lyon. He rose almost another 170 places on the rankings to finish last year at No. 43, having started at 212.

At last year’s Australian Open, Tsonga’s 67(18) 76(2) 63 63 loss to Andy Roddick in the first round set a new record for the longest known tiebreak at the Australian Open, and equalled the record for the longest known tiebreak at any tournament.

This is Tsonga’s third tournament of 2008. He reached his second career semifinal at Adelaide, but lost in the first round at Sydney.

Tsonga has won two doubles career titles. At 2007 Lyon, wild cards Tsonga and Sebastien Grosjean defeated the No. 1 and No. 3 seeded teams en route to the title, and at 2008 Sydney, Tsonga partnered and Richard Gasquet defeated the No. 1 doubles team Bob and Mike Bryan in the final.

Tsonga was twice a semifinalist in the boys’ singles here, in 2002 and 2003. He also reached the last four at 2003 Roland Garros and Wimbledon before posting his best junior result, winning the 2003 US Open boys’ singles over Marcos Baghdatis. He finished 2003 as the junior world No. 2 behind Baghdatis.

Tsonga is in Melbourne with his coach Eric Winogradsky, manager Morgan Menaham and physical trainer Cyril Brechbul. He has surpassed his coach’s best performance here – Winogradsky reached the second round twice, in 1989 and 1990.

Tsonga has a French mother (Evelyne) and a Congolese father (Didier), who played handball nationally and internationally for Congo. His father is now a chemistry teacher and his mother a schoolteacher. He now resides in La Rippe in the Lake Geneva region of Switzerland, having moved from his birth-town Le Mans in France. He is nicknamed ‘Muhammad Ali’ due to his striking resemblance to the boxer.

Tsonga’s parents have flown in for the final, along with French Tennis Federation President Christian Bimes and Cedric Pioline. Tsonga’s father has dreamed of visiting Australia.

Tsonga grew up with fellow French tennis player Gael Monfils, and the pair of them would spend hours trying to get a serve just like Andy Roddick’s.