Commentary

Tsonga fails to find a way to win

Updated: August 30, 2012, 11:04 PM ET
By Howard Bryant | ESPN.com

NEW YORK -- The day before, Janko Tipsarevic went into the second round overconfident. But Tipsarevic recalibrated and won in five sets over Frenchman Guillaume Rufin. Afterward, he said he nearly fell victim to a fatal lack of urgency. Apparently, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga failed to take note of this cautionary tale.

No. 5-seeded Tsonga arrived at Louis Armstrong Stadium on Thursday looking flat. He faced what should have been an easy opponent in Martin Klizan, who owes his No. 52 ranking to his clay-court prowess. Klizan's best showing at the U.S. Open previously was qualifying to reach the first round in 2010 (he lost to Juan Carlos Ferrero).

So, Klizan should not have eliminated Tsonga 6-4, 1-6, 6-1, 6-3 in four convincing sets. The performace wasn't like Tsonga. It was the first time he's left a major so early since being knocked out of the Australian Open in the first round in 2007. Perhaps Tsonga was injured or ill or finally exhausted after a long season of tennis highlighted by tantalizing peaks?

"I don't know what happened to me, but it is very disappointing," Tsonga said. "Today I was not in good shape. I didn't play good tennis. It seemed like I could not hit the ball enough hard, to try and put my opponent out of position. I don't really know why it was like this today, but sometimes it happens to me."

Whatever the case, Tsonga finished Karol Beck in straight sets to begin the tournament, but in the second round against Klizan, he showed none of the show-stopping energy that is his staple. He looked tired, drawn, unable to sustain focus, especially on serve, which was broken seven times, and he made five double faults. Tsonga, one of the most dangerous servers on tour and who routinely reaches 135 mph in clutch moments, did not crack 130 mph on the day, and -- in the clearest sign of fatigue -- was averaging just 111 mph on his first serve. In his first-round match, Tsonga's first serve averaged 117 mph with a high of 137.

Klizan frustrated Tsonga with his tenacity, but he did not play a particularly noteworthy match. The problem was that Tsonga does not yet have what Novak Djokovic and especially Roger Federer possess -- that ability to find an extra reserve on an off day.

Tsonga did not dispute his fatigue but also said he plays a maximum amount of tournaments out of necessity to maintain his ranking. Tsonga doesn't have the luxury of resting more during the season.

"I have to play because I'm not Federer," Tsonga said. "I'm not Djokovic, and if I want to keep my ranking and not play these guys in the round of 16, you know, I have to play these tournaments."

Even with his ranking, Tsonga runs into roadblocks against higher seeds. This year, he exhilarated his countrymen at Roland Garros by losing narrowly to Djokovic in a thrilling five-set quarterfinal. Then Tsonga lost to Andy Murray in the semifinals at Wimbledon, which suggested that Tsonga's talent was finally beginning to coalesce around a maturing, dangerous game. At the Olympics, Tsonga survived a devastating marathon with Milos Raonic, winning 25-23 in the third set in the second round. He continued on until a quarterfinal with Djokovic again.

Tsonga is the highest seed to date to get bounced from the U.S. Open. Marin Cilic is now the highest seed (12) left in Tsonga's portion of the draw. Klizan will now play France's Jeremy Chardy as another great opportunity for Tsonga to join the elite turns inexplicably to dust.

"I think for the moment there is a big difference. The difference is they win tournaments, and the rest, no," Tsonga said of bridging the gap between him and the top three. "What is difficult here is that you never get the reward. It is tough to get the reward when you play with these guys. So I work, a lot hard every week. I give a lot of myself every day. I never get rewards. That's why sometimes, it's tough."