Men’s draw | Jo-Wilfried Tsonga

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga fights back from brink of defeat to reach fourth round at Sony Open

 <span class="cutline_leadin">Gritty competitor:</span> Jo-Wilfried Tsonga was down a set and trailed 5-1 in the second-set tiebreaker to Marcos Baghdatis before rallying for a victory.
Gritty competitor: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga was down a set and trailed 5-1 in the second-set tiebreaker to Marcos Baghdatis before rallying for a victory.
David Santiago / Staff Photo

Special to the Miami Herald

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga was staring at almost certain defeat Sunday afternoon in the third round of the Sony Open at the Tennis Center of Crandon Park on Key Biscayne.

The 11th-seeded Frenchman had lost the first set and was down 5-1 in a second-set tiebreaker when he unleashed a series of drop shots that left Marcos Baghdatis running and shifted momentum onto his side.

Tsonga went on to win seven of the next eight points and broke Baghdatis in the 11th game of the third set to advance to the fourth round 4-6, 7-6 (8-6), 7-5.

“Tennis is tough because until the last ball is finished you’re still alive, and that’s what happened,” Tsonga said. “I was really happy to see my drop shots go in the court and win this point because I had two serves with the possibility to be back in the game, and that’s what happened.”

The muggy weather seemed to have no effect on the players as they battled for 21/2 hours in front of a raucous full house on the Grandstand Court.

The length of the points increased as the match wore on, and the shots continued to be mesmerize the fans, who roared their approval.

Tsonga celebrated his victory with a loud scream and a couple of pirouettes while pumping his fist, but it is clear he is not the same player who took the world by storm in Australia in 2008.

The Frenchman has won 10 times on the ATP Tour but is still searching for that elusive major championship.

He has come close on numerous occasions, most notably when he reached the final of the 2008 Australian Open as an unseeded competitor before dropping a four-set match to Novak Djokovic.

Tsonga has been to four semifinals since that night in Melbourne, but has no finals appearances to show for it.

It was only two years ago that Tsonga held onto the No. 5 ranking in the world, right behind the Big Four of Novak Djokivic, Roger Federer, Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal. Yet, he has slipped to No. 11 in the rankings with only one trophy since the start of last year. Last week in Indian Wells, he lost his first match in straight sets to countryman Julien Benneteau, who is No. 52 in the latest rankings.

Many question if Tsonga can regain the form that took him to new heights, but his thunderous serve continues to allow him to stay in matches.

In the match against Baghdatis, Tsonga delivered clutch serves throughout the third set to fend off break points he created with more than 35 unforced errors.

“I don’t know why, but always in those [crucial] moments my serve is with me,” Tsonga said. “I hope it will stay with me for a long time.”

Tsonga will need that serve as he moves on to face No. 6 Murray, who dispatched Feliciano Lopez in almost half the time it took Tsonga to beat Baghdatis. The Brit holds an 8-1 advantage over Tsonga in nine career meetings.

The lone Tsonga win in the series came in the first round of the 2008 Australian Open, but Tsonga said he is ready for the challenge.

“It’s pretty exciting,” Tsonga said. “It’s going to be a good confrontation, and I’m really happy to play to Andy.”

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