Arguable underachiever Jo-Wilfried Tsonga will hope to put his injury troubles behind him in his fourth final of the season at the European Open in Antwerp. The second seeded Tsonga is on a comeback trail after knee injuries troubled the 32-year-old and caused a dip in his form after he won three titles earlier in the season in Rotterdam, Marseille and Lyon. Argentinian fourth seed Schwartzman who made the final in last year’s inaugural event losing to Richard Gasquet will be hoping to go one better this year. But who will come out on top in Antwerp?
This is the first career meeting between the world #17 Tsonga and #26 Schwartzman. Tsonga is 29-12 this season whilst the Argentine has had a mixed 2017 with a record of 33-25 and is yet to win a title this season. He also only has one career title to his name, having won in Istanbul last year on the clay, which is his preferred surface. Tsonga, in contrast, has 15 career titles, including two at Masters 1000 level. The Frenchman has also made an additional 12 career finals and has 420 Tour match wins to his name whilst Schwartzman has just 67.
Path to the final
Tsonga started the campaign with a 6-4 6-3 win against Kenny de Schepper in the round of 16 after a first round bye. The second seed looked comfortable in the first set despite having to save a break point when serving it out. De Schepper briefly led 3-2 in the second set, but Tsonga quickly erased that deficit by winning four games in a row to complete a stylish win. He continued his good form by defeating another compatriot Julien Benneteau in the quarterfinals 7-6 6-2 in a masterclass serving performance. Indeed, Tsonga struck 17 aces and won 30 out of 32 points when he landed his first serve.
Tsonga then ended the run of home hope Ruben Bemelmans in the semifinal with a 6-3 6-3 win in under 73 minutes. It was an impressive performance from the Frenchman who broke twice in both sets converting all four of his break points. In addition, he erased two of the three break points he faced, to dismiss the Belgian who looked overawed playing in his first Tour semifinal.
The Argentine Schwartzman also enjoyed a first round bye as the fourth seed. He began in the second round with a win against the talented but inconsistent Ernesto Escobedo in the round of 16. The Argentine was made to work, requiring an hour and 41 minutes to come through, but did so without dropping a set. Schwartzman then saw off David Ferrer in the quarterfinals defeating him 7-5 6-2. The wily Spanish veteran ran the Argentine close in the first set but Schwartzman pulled away in the second to record his second victory over Ferrer in 2017.
Schwartzman then defeated the Greek young gun Stefanos Tsitsipas in the semis 6-3 7-5. The Argentine started slowly, falling a break behind in both sets but rallied to win the match in straight sets. He broke the Greek’s serve five times from ten opportunities to claim his spot in the final with an impressive performance.
How do they match up?
Tsonga is banking on his huge serve that has long been the backbone of his game. This week, the high percentage of first-serve points and aces have allowed the Frenchman to dominate his opponents. His forehand, which is one of the biggest on Tour, has also been firing. When the serve and forehand work in concert the big Frenchman is almost unstoppable. But he is also easily distracted and can fade mentally from matches. His backhand is also a weakness. Tsonga hardly uses his left hand on his double hander resulting in a fairly tame shot that can often misfire.
Schwartzman is one of the shortest players in the top 100 of the ATP Tour but he is also one of the most tenacious. As seen in Shanghai against Roger Federer, the Argentine is not afraid of big names and is willing to work hard to neutralise their power. He is a fine returner which will be crucial against the first serve of Tsonga. He is also an excellent mover which may help him to withstand Tsonga’s offensive power. His serve, however, is a weakness and he finds free points hard to come by.
The second seed Tsonga is one of the toughest players to face when he is at his best. However, he can also offer poor performances when distracted. This week, however, he has been at something approaching his best. But Schwartzman has the game to frustrate him and exploit his weak backhand. Expect the Argentine to spring a surprise in three sets.
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