With a place at the season finale in London still to be fought for, eighth seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga should have plenty of motivation going into his semifinal with world #34 Philipp Kohlschreiber. The Frenchman was 22nd in the Race to London at the beginning of last week but after winning the title in Antwerp is back within touching distance of the top 8. Should he win the title in Vienna, he would be just 95 points behind Pablo Carreno Busta, who holds the final qualifying spot. But Kohlschreiber isn’t in Vienna just to make up the numbers and will be looking to make his first ever final at ATP 500 level.
Tsonga has been dominant in their rivalry so far, with a 10-1 lead in the head-to-head. His sole defeat came back in 2009 at the now-defunct World Team Cup in Dusseldorf. That win actually levelled their head-to-head after Tsonga had defeated the German in Metz in 2007. Since then Tsonga has picked up nine straight wins including notably in the 2012 Wimbledon quarterfinals where he denied Kohlschreiber in four sets. Their most recent meeting came a year ago at the very same tournament they renew their rivalry at, Vienna. Tsonga won in straight sets 7-6 6-2 coming back from a break down in the first set.
Path to the final
Tsonga started against Russian youngster Karen Khachanov coming back from a set down to progress a 6-7 6-4 6-3 winner. The Russian had started brightly but dropped serve at 4-4 in the second set to lose the momentum and ultimately the match. In the second round, Damir Dzumhur pushed Tsonga incredibly close, but the Frenchman stepped it up when it mattered most coming from behind in the second set tiebreak to fend off the Bosnian. Dzumhur held serve in the third set for 1-1 but Tsonga won 12 straight points from there to seize control of the decider and he finished Dzumhur off swiftly to complete a 6-7 7-6 6-1 win.
Tsonga then faced off against German world #5 Alexander Zverev. It was the German who made the better start breaking Tsonga early on but the Frenchman broke back and won the first set in a tiebreak. Zverev again broke Tsonga early in the second set but again could not hold on to his lead as Tsonga kept his London hopes alive with a 7-6 6-2 win.
Kohlschreiber started the tournament with an upset win against the fifth seed John Isner 7-6 6-4. The 34-year-old German withstood a barrage of 22 aces and broke Isner three times to prevail after one hour and 47 minutes. He then defeated the qualifier Pierre-Hugues Herbert 7-6 6-3 in the second round. In the quarterfinals, the German faced Diego Schwartzman of Argentina. It wasn’t an easy encounter for the German veteran. Schwartzman had the better of the early running and served for the opener at 5-3. But Kohlschreiber fought back to win four straight games and claim the first set. He required three match points in the second set tiebreak to seal the match but finished Schwartzman off to reach the semifinals.
How do they match up?
Tsonga’s game is based around a huge serve and a huge forehand. There are few players more adept at deploying a one-two punch of a big first serve and a forehand winner into the open space. However, he is also an excellent volleyer and there are few players more capable in the forecourt than the Frenchman. That combination of soft hands and power is what took him to four Grand Slam semifinals and one Slam final. Kohlschreiber has little of Tsonga’s power, but he does have a very technically sound game. His backhand is also less liable to breaking down than the Frenchman’s. He will surely seek to neutralise Tsonga’s power as much as possible and force the Frenchman into mistakes. His movement is also of a very high quality, and he will need to defend at something approaching his best if he is to live with the German’s power.
History and form alike make the Frenchman the favourite for this encounter. His game is better suited to the indoor conditions than Kohlschreiber’s and he is a former winner in Vienna, having triumphed at the event back in 2011. He will get another shot at the title this year. Expect him to come through in straight sets.
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