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Jo-Wilfried Tsonga sees off Wimbledon threat of big-serving Gilles Müller

The Guardian logo The Guardian 30-06-2015 Hugh Muir at Wimbledon
In fits and starts, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga moved into the second round of Wimbledon with a five-set victory over Luxembourg’s Gilles Müller.

On a sweltering No2 court, with a white baseball cap offering the vague hope of respite, he saw off a spirited challenge from a dangerous opponent who similarly troubled Andy Murray at Queen’s. For all his menace, talent and athleticism, Tsonga, who won 7-6, 6-7, 6-4, 3-6, 6-2, is bedevilled by lapses in concentration and wavering intensity.

He has the modus operandi of a security light. He flicks on when there is danger, rests when the threat has passed. This mental approach can and does get him through against lesser opponents but is repeatedly exposed by titans of the circuit. Tsonga took the first set in a relative languid manner. It went to a tie-break, which the Frenchman won 10-8 but there never seemed much doubt he would win it.

Müller’s game plan to stifle him at the net stuttered at the outset, while Tsonga served well and stepped up the power when necessary. He seemed content to do the same for the second set, easing through his service games – aces the rule, not the exception – and pressuring but never breaking Müller’s serve.

But at the tie-break, the light stayed off with intruders lurking. Müller won 7-3. Now obviously bothered by Müller’s constant charges to the net, Tsonga flickered to life in the third breaking the Luxembourger’s serve to take a 3-2 lead. He squandered another opportunity to break on Müller’s next service game but, refocused, began to attack Müller with greater authority and took the set 6-4. But the light flickered off again.

With Müller canny and brave in his serving and volleying, Tsonga surrendered his first serve of the fourth set to go 2-0 down. He threatened to break his opponent’s serve at next opportunity but doughty Müller – by now encamped at the net and reaping the benefits – held firm. At 3-0 down, the light flickered again – Tsonga, visibly frustrated, ferociously secured a love game but it was clearly tough going. On at least three occasions the volleying of Müller left him so flat-footed he fell over. At 5-2 he chased the break again but squandered two break points. He was frustrated but so were his supporters. “Come on Jo,” shouted one. “It’s too hot for five sets.”

But with Müller moving well, serving cleverly and predatory master of the net, that was where they headed. Müller prevailed 6-3. Both started the final set strongly and in the fourth game, Tsonga got the break. “Finish him,” shouted one fan, overheating. Tsonga obliged with serve and volley to go 5-3 up. The biter bit. As he served to stay alive Müller kept faith in his net game but Tsonga’s whipped forehand passed him. Another break for 6-3 and with it the match.

If he tires later in the tournament, Tsonga may reflect on a blisteringly hot encounter that was longer than it should have been.

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