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Tsonga beats Monfils to make triumphant start at Japan Open

by Jack Gallagher

Staff Writer

France’s Jo-Wilfried Tsonga defeated compatriot Gael Monfils 6-3, 7-6 (10-8), in a first-round match at the Japan Open on Monday.

Tsonga, ranked eighth in the world, used a strong serve and powerful ground strokes to win a baseline battle with Monfils at Ariake Colosseum in 1 hour, 31 minutes.

In other first-round matches, sixth seed Nicolas Almagro of Spain eliminated qualifier Benjamin Becker of Germany 7-6 (7-4), 7-6 (7-3), while Alexandr Dolgopolov of Ukraine downed Daniel Brands of Germany 6-3, 6-1.

Top seed Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina is scheduled to play Marcos Baghdatis of Cyprus in a first-round match on Tuesday, while defending champion Kei Nishikori will take on unseeded Jurgen Melzer of Austria the same day.

Andy Murray, who won the Japan Open in 2011, had been scheduled to compete here, but withdrew earlier this month and subsequently underwent back surgery.

Tsonga quickly moved out to a 3-0 lead in the opening set of the match, breaking Monfils in the second game, and held serve to claim the set.

The second set was on serve until the tiebreak, where Monfils rallied from a 5-1 deficit to tie it 5-5. He then fought off three match points before falling 10-8 when Tsonga finished the match with a crosscourt volley at the net.

The 28-year-old Tsonga began the year strongly, reaching the quarterfinals at the Australian Open and the semifinals at the French Open. After finishing runnerup to Andy Murray at Queen’s Club, however, Tsonga was forced to retire with a knee injury in the second round at Wimbledon, and did not enter the U.S. Open as a result.

“I started well and played offensively,” Tsonga said. “I know this is the only way for me to beat Gael.”

Tsonga said he was still dealing with jet lag and the change in weather since arriving in Tokyo.

“I have not played much in the last two or three months, so it will take me time to adjust,” stated Tsonga, who said he was cramping near the end of the match.

Monfils, ranked 41st, also lost here to Tsonga in the semifinals in 2009.

Tsonga had 11 aces in the triumph and never lost serve while Monfils committed several unforced errors.

The victory improved Tsonga’s all-time record against Monfils to 4-1. Their most recent meeting had been at last year’s Qatar Open, where Tsonga won in straight sets.

Tsonga said he and Monfils have been friends for several years and spend time together occasionally off the court.

“It’s always difficult to play against a friend,” Tsonga noted. “We always give 100 percent on the court to respect each other.”