Jo-Wilfried Tsonga has been the giant-slayer of the Rogers Cup this week, and on Sunday he'll try to conquer one of the greatest of all time in the final -- Roger Federer.
Tsonga knocked off three Top 10 opponents to book his spot in the final – first top-ranked Novak Djokovic, then World No. 9 Andy Murray, and finally No. 8 Grigor Dimitrov on Saturday, 6-4, 6-3. Now the 29-year-old Frenchman, seeded 13th in Toronto, meets Federer, a 17-time Grand Slam champion and two-time winner of the Rogers Cup.
Federer easily dispatched Spain's Feliciano Lopez 6-3, 6-4 in 82 minutes Saturday evening to advance to his fifth Rogers Cup final. It wasn't the Saturday night primetime matchup many had wanted or anticipated a day earlier, when Canada's Milos Raonic was facing Lopez for the chance to meet Federer.
Federer jumped on much of what Lopez successfully dished at Raonic the night before when the Spaniard had ended the hometown player's tournament, 6-4, 6-7(5), 6-3. While Lopez had served very well and limited his unforced errors versus Raonic, he did neither versus Federer.
Tsonga had wrapped up his match by mid-afternoon on Saturday, and was well into his rest and recovery by the time Federer even stepped onto Stadium Court that evening. Federer seemed eager to make it an early night versus Lopez, unlike the previous two evenings when he played long three-setters into the late hours with David Ferrer and Marin Cilic.
Still, Federer offered the crowd some dazzling moments, including a trick shot between the legs and a dizzying series of precision volleys at the net. Just a day past his 33 birthday, the Swiss star dominated throughout.
Tsonga was a semi-finalist twice at the Rogers Cup. Coincidently, he lost to Murray in 2009 and Djokovic in 2011. Coming into this week, Tsonga had lost nine straight meetings with Djokovic and eight straight with Murray. Yet he found ways to beat both on back-to-back days this week.
"I always believed it myself during all these years where I lost against those guys, and finally I get a little rewards for the moment," said Tsonga.
Canadians would best remember Tsonga as the player who defeated Raonic in the longest tennis match in Olympic history, 6-3, 3-6, 25-23, two years ago in London. Their epic third set lasted three hours on that day back in July of 2012. As tired as he was after that victory, the lively Frenchman still erupted in a leaping post-victory jig.
He had a similar jig after knocking off Dimitrov on Saturday, jumping about with fists flying like a prize fighter, a nod, he says to the boxing sessions he sometimes does for fitness. He is known in the tennis world for his celebrations.
"I think he just can overpower guys, serve up a storm and then, you know, play really aggressive with his forehand and also be solid in his backhand," said Federer of Tsonga. You think you're in a safe place sometimes in the rally, and he takes one step and, you know, just hits it and the point is over…He's one of the few guys besides Stan and other guys who are not the Big 4 sort of thing who can do that."
The 6-foot-2 power-hitter from Le Mans, France has led the tournament so far in aces with 66. It's the second ATP final of the year for Tsonga, who played to the last day in Marseille but lost to Ernets Gulbis. Tsonga will attempt to win the 11th title of his career on Sunday.
Tsonga said he preferred to face Federer over Lopez, even though he is 4-11 all-time versus the Swiss star – the most notable wins in that bunch came at Roland Garros last year, and two in the summer of 2011, Wimbledon and Montreal.
"It can be one of the biggest victories for me if I am able to beat him," said Tsonga. "Every time, you know, the crowd is for him. So, you know, it's quite a good sensation, you know. It's quite a good feeling when you win against 10,000 people."
Since Andy Roddick won the Rogers Cup in 2003, no one outside the group of Federer, Djokovic, Murray and Rafael Nadal have won the lone Canadian Tour stop of the year. Federer won it in 2006 and 2004.
Canada's Daniel Nestor and Serbia's Nenad Zimonjic missed out on their opportunity to play for a doubles title on Sunday by losing to Alexander Peya of Austria and Bruno Soares of Brazil 6-4, 7-6(8). The 41-year-old Canadian, playing in his 26th Canadian ATP event, was attempting to win his third Rogers Cup.
The singles winner in Toronto this year will take home $598,900 in prize money. To compare, Tsonga has made $13,342,315 in winnings throughout his pro career, while Federer has made $83,102,704 – the most of any ATP player in history. Tsonga also trails Federer a little in finals experience – this will be his 20 appearance in a final compared to No. 140 for Federer.
"It's a lot of fun but it's also a lot of work, and especially this week it's been a grind, going to bed at 3:30 last night and it's been rough," said Federer. "And then now turn around to tomorrow, 3:00 match, I think. It's a change, so I hope I can play decent tennis tomorrow."