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Tsonga plays possum for a while before dispatching Federer Add to ...

ttebbutt@globeandmail.com

It was a rope-a-dope, intentional or not, worthy of the man he is often said to resemble, boxing legend Muhammad Ali.

That is one way to describe how Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France played all of the second set, and half the third, of his comeback 7-6 (5), 1-6, 7-6 (3) win over Roger Federer in the quarter-finals of the Rogers Cup yesterday in Montreal.

The first set ended when Federer botched a make-able backhand passing shot into the net off a diving volley by Tsonga. Then Federer took control, winning the second set 6-1 and forging a 5-1 lead in the third.

Tsonga received treatment on his right elbow after landing hard on the court on that last point of the first set, including anti-inflammatories, during the ensuing change-over.

"I was a little worried about my arm and got stuck on that," Tsonga explained about what the French call un passage à vide (a dry spell).

"I wasn't making any first serves, wasn't making him play, and just basically wasn't playing at all. Against such a good player, that changes things fast and he starts winning 10 games in a row [actually seven]without even wondering what's happening."

Federer saw the middle part of the match much like Tsonga, saying, "he completely lost his game for an hour there in the second and third [sets] That's what Jo does. He doesn't make a [service]return for three hours and then he puts in a few and all of a sudden he's back into the match."

A year ago in Toronto, Federer suffered a shock opening-round loss to another Frenchman, Gilles Simon, but that was partly attributable to having just two weeks off after a devastating loss to Rafael Nadal in a memorable five-set Wimbledon final.

Yesterday, Federer twice served for the match - at 5-2 and 5-4 - in the final set, but by that time his level had begun to dip and a rash of unforced errors flooded into his game.

"As things went along, I was able to get back," Tsonga said. "And he had a down in his game, gave me a lot of points and allowed me to get back into the match."

What appears to have been an inadvertent rope-a-dope, in terms of his not providing much resistance as Ali did against George Foreman in that legendary heavyweight championship bout in Zaire in 1974, likely contributed to Federer's collapse.

But Federer did not offer that lack of opposition as an excuse.

"You should not really try too hard to explain it," he said about not putting away the match. "You could say I should have got my first serve in at 30-all [late in the third] But you have to give credit to the opponent that he fought hard and put you in difficult positions near the end.

"That's why I don't have too many regrets, even though I really should have won the match," Federer said.

Playing his first event since winning his record-setting 15th Grand Slam title at Wimbledon last month, he could take consolation that he is adjusting well to life with his 23-day-old twin daughters Charlene and Myla.

"It's working out well, so I'm relieved about that," Federer said. "Mirka and I are managing this new life."

Tsonga, who was runner-up to Novak Djokovic at the 2008 Australian Open after a blinding 6-2, 6-3, 6-2 win over Nadal in the semi-finals, has always admired Federer. He could not choose between the thrill of yesterday's victory and the match in Australia.

"I'm happy to have won today but ... it's just different."

In this afternoon's semi-final, he will play No. 3 seed Andy Murray, a 6-2, 6-4 winner over No. 8 Nikolay Davydenko yesterday.

Tsonga, 24, leads their head-to-head 2-1 and said about Murray: "He hasn't got Nadal's big physique or Federer's ability to just swing away, but he has lots of strengths and is a very complete player who's hard to outmanoeuvre."

Like many of his French tennis-playing compatriots, Tsonga is officially a resident of Switzerland, Federer's homeland, for tax purposes.

When a Swiss reporter joked that he had not shown much respect by beating his countryman, Tsonga deftly responded: "Maybe, but in sports, the most important way you can show respect to your opponent is to try to win."

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