By Richard Pagliaro | Friday, February 17, 2017
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga beat top-seeded Marin Cilic for the first time in six years, 7-6 (8), 7-6 (5), to set up a Rotterdam semifinal against Tomas Berdych.
Photo credit: ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament Facebook
Timely tie break strikes launched Jo-Wilfried Tsonga into his second straight semifinal.
Tsonga showed toughness on critical points squeezing past top-seeded Marin Cilic, 7-6 (8), 7-6 (5), to reach the Rotterdam semifinals for the first time in six years.
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Tsonga saved two set points—at 6-7 and 7-8 in the first-set tie break—in a match devoid of service breaks.
Hammering his favored forehand with ambition, Tsonga also produced a couple of eye-popping one-handed backhand passing shots.
The sixth-seeded Frenchman fired 11 aces defeating Cilic for just the second time in seven career meetings. It was Tsonga’s first win over Cilic since a 6-3, 6-4 victory at the 2011 Cincinnati Masters.
The 2011 Rotterdam runner-up will face 2014 champion Tomas Berdych for a spot in Sunday’s final.
In a quarterfinal of former champions, Berdych continued his mastery of Martin Klizan, bouncing the defending champion, 6-3, 6-3, to reach his second semifinal of the season.
Dominant on serve, the fourth-seeded Czech permitted only five points on serve and did not face a break point in the 59-minute victory. Berdych beat Klizan for the fourth time in as many meetings.
Playing for his first semifinal of the season, Cilic earned three break points in the opening set, but could not convert.
Serving at 4-all, Tsonga saved a break point when Cilic’s crosscourt backhand pass failed to find the mark.
Two games later, Cilic turned up the pressure again moving the Frenchman corner-to-corner to set up a smash for break point. Tsonga erased it with a slice serve down the middle. Whipping an inside-out forehand, Tsonga snapped off a smash working through the test for a 6-5 lead.
A surprised Cilic had no play when Tsonga wristed a snazzy one-handed backhand pass down the line for love-30. Amping up his aggression, Cilic denied the threat forcing the tie break.
The 2014 US Open champion outplayed Tsonga for much of the set yet had nothing to show for it.
A crackling inside-out forehand gave Tsonga three set points, but Cilic smacked an ace to save the first before a tight Tsonga double faulted into net on the third set point.
Shaking it off, Tsonga denied two set point to level at 8-all. Jolting his third ace off the line, Tsonga earned a fourth set point. This time, he punished a Cilic second serve tomahawking a forehand return winner down the line for a one-set lead.
The two-hander is Tsonga’s standard backhand, but he sometimes swings more freely through the one-hander on the move. Tsonga belted a running one-handed pass for love-30 in the third game before Cilic restored order to hold.
A lunging stab backhand volley and slashing serve down middle helped Tsonga hold setting up second-set tie break.
The pair traded aces as tension spiked.
Attacking behind an inside-out forehand, Tsonga drew the error for match point. In the ensuing point, Cilic was in charge behind a series of diagonal forehands before dragging a forehand down the line wide ending a quality two hour match.
Continuing his quest for his first title since the 2015 Metz, Tsonga faces another stiff test in Berdych, who has won eight of their 11 meetings. Tsonga's last hard-court win over the Czech was a 3-6, 7-6 (6), 6-4 triumph in the 2013 Marseille final.