By David Packman
The record-breaking heatwave in Perth over the past week may have finally passed, but Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga produced some heat of his own inside Perth Arena in front of 7936 fans.
In his own inimitable style, Tsonga swept past big-serving American John Isner 6-3 6-2 in less than an hour.
After proclaiming to the media just a few days ago that his quest to get among the top four in the world was like a journey to the sun, his first victory for the new year was apt in more ways than one for the Frenchman, currently ranked eight in the world.
Tsonga had lost his previous two meetings against Isner, the world number 14, but he was clearly the better player tonight, looking sharp, timing the ball sweetly and moving his opponent around the court with consummate ease.
Meanwhile, Isner was working valiantly to try and get something going, but as the match progressed, he seemed to increasingly struggle with his game. A taped right knee also appeared to be doing him little favours.
As a contest, the match started evenly, with both players trading big blows in their opening service games. But when Tsonga broke at the very next asking, the momentum shifted significantly in his favour, and he never looked back, holding firm to take the set 6-3.
Tsonga didn’t miss a beat as the second set began, and while Isner continued to try and hit himself out of trouble, it was all to no avail, and he began to look increasingly lacklustre as his opponent simply went from strength to strength. Before long, the Frenchman found himself two breaks to the good and up 5-1.
While the big American willed himself to hold his next serve to love, it was not nearly enough, as Tsonga quickly closed out the match.
Afterwards, Tsonga acknowledged his recent head-to-head standing against Isner. “It’s never easy against John,” he said. “So I’m happy with the way I played tonight.”
“It’s a really good start for 2013.”
Isner was quick to praise the form of the Frenchman while being far more circumspect about his own game. “It certainly wasn’t my best,” he said. “I was missing a lot of shots I would’ve liked to have made, but I’m not freaking about it.”
In responding to questions about the taping on his knee, he said that it had been bothering him a little, “but it’s fine, really.”
France now moves 1-0 ahead in the tie against USA, leaving Tsonga’s compatriot Mathilde Johansson to battle it out next against Venus Williams.