Tennis: Tsonga survives titanic tussle
Updated: Tuesday, 31 Jul 2012 23:11
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga played his way into the history books today as he defeated Canada's Milos Raonic in the longest three-set tennis match in Olympic history.
The fifth seed finally won their second-round clash 6-3 3-6 25-23 after three hours and 57 minutes on Wimbledon's Court One, with the third set alone taking three hours, another Olympic record.
In an era dominated by Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, Tsonga was pleased there was something left for him.
The Frenchman said: "It's good because this is the only way to write my name in history for the moment.
With Rafa, Roger and Novak, even Andy (Murray), it's tough to go through big tournaments. So I'm really happy. I hope I will have some more."
Raonic, who at 21 is one of bright hopes of men's tennis, improved throughout the match but serving second in the decider eventually proved decisive.
Tsonga had a match point at 16-15 and then again at 21-20, which Raonic saved with big serves, but when three more arrived in the 48th game, the Canadian eventually came unstuck.
Tsonga roared with delight and relief and he said: "At the end I was just very happy for my country. I did it for them.
"I dreamt about the Olympics when I was a kid. And now it came true. It's maybe better than in my dream. For me, to represent my country is something big. They give me a lot, so I try to give back."
Raonic was pleased to be in the record books even if, like Nicolas Mahut in his famous epic defeat by John Isner two years ago, he was on the wrong end of it.
The 21-year-old said: "Maybe next time I will ask my opponent, 'Do you want to play a long match, and let's take it seriously from 26-26 so I can get on the right side of things'."
Raonic has come close to beating a number of top players, notably Roger Federer on three occasions this season, and he said: "I've been knocking on the door. Hopefully next time around I can kick it down."
Remarkably, though, the record may only last a day, with the doubles match between Czech pair Tomas Berdych and Radek Stepanek and Brazil's Marcelo Melo and Bruno Soares called off at 18-18 in the third set for darkness.
Tsonga next faces Spain's Feliciano Lopez, whose grass-court pedigree shone through as he dispatched ninth seed Juan Monaco of Argentina 6-4 6-4.
Second seed Novak Djokovic had looked slightly shaky in his opening win over Fabio Fognini, dropping the first set, but it could not have been more different today as he blitzed Andy Roddick 6-2 6-1 in only 54 minutes under the Centre Court roof.
The American took a 5-3 lead over Djokovic in their head-to-head meetings into the match but admitted he had little chance today against a player at the top of his game.
Roddick said: "He played great. I came out hitting the ball pretty well. I definitely could have served a little bit better.
"I was missing my spots a little bit early on but, whenever I brought my serve in, gave myself margins, he was sticking returns. I felt like I was playing off my shoe tops.
"He was just in the zone. The conditions were perfect. He was hitting it well. I mean, he just beat the crap out of me today."
Djokovic declared things could not have gone any better, saying: "It was a perfect match in every sense.
"I served many aces, got a lot of free points on the first serve and I returned a lot of balls back in the court and made him play. That was the tactics, something I really wanted to do."
In the third round Djokovic will play wild card Lleyton Hewitt from Australia, who rolled back the years with a brilliant 6-4 7-5 victory over 13th seed Marin Cilic from Croatia.
Hewitt, the 2002 Wimbledon champion, has struggled increasingly with injuries and his career may have been over but for radical toe surgery earlier this season.
He said: "It's a great win and great to be back here. I'm getting wins against quality players again and I had some doubts because when you've been through as many surgeries as I have and tough times, it makes it all the more sweet."
Fourth seed David Ferrer from Spain had no trouble brushing aside Blaz Kavcic 6-2 6-2 and he next meets Japanese 15th seed Kei Nishikori, a 4-6 6-4 6-1 winner over Nikolay Davydenko today.
Cyprus' Marcos Baghdatis toppled 16th seed Richard Gasquet 6-4 6-4 and he will play third seed Andy Murray in the last 16 in a repeat of last month's late-night Wimbledon classic.