Second-seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga struggled through a tough opening match to beat Czech Lukas Dlouhy 7-6, 3-6, 7-6 at the Thailand Open yesterday.
Still lacking fitness after undergoing knee surgery three months ago, Tsonga looked jaded throughout the two-hour match, but sealed victory with a 7-1 win in a final-set tiebreak.
Tsonga, ranked 20th, let slip a 4-2 lead in the opening set, but clung on to win a thrilling tiebreak 11-9.
Dlouhy tested the Frenchman’s fitness when he won the second set and led in the third before Tsonga fought back to take the match to a deciding tiebreak.
“It was a very difficult match, I didn’t play my best tennis,” Tsonga told reporters. “I won, that’s the main thing, because Lukas was playing some good tennis. It’s a good victory for me because I haven’t played so much. I served well, I was there, I fought, and I won.”
Since he reached the final of the Australian Open in January, Tsonga’s season has been blighted by injury, causing him to miss the French Open and Wimbledon. He has played only last month’s US Open since his knee operation.
French veteran Fabrice Santoro said yesterday he would cut back his playing schedule for next year after a first-round drubbing, signaling that retirement may not be far off.
The 35-year-old, known as “The Magician” for his fast racket hands and shot-making capabilities, lost to unsung 22-year-old Viktor Troicki of Serbia, 7-6 (7/4), 6-2.
“I’ve not set my schedule for 2009,” Santoro said after the loss, his third consecutive first round send-off. “I will play some events, but it’s getting tougher and tougher to play.”
The French Davis Cup stalwart, now ranked 63rd in the world after reaching a career high 17 in 2001, told reporters: “Playing the matches is not tough — it’s the training, the travelling, I want to spend time with my daughter.”
Santoro said he is mulling a return to France after living for six years in Switzerland, considered a tax haven for European athletes, as his daughter attends school in Paris.
Santoro had his chances on court against Troicki, who reached his first career final in Washington, but lost to Argentina’s Juan Martin Del Potro. The Frenchman had a set point in the 10th game against the Serb but was unable to capitalise.
“I felt good at the start and think I played better than him in the first set,” said Santoro. “I had confidence at 5-4, but two passing shots and he was back.” Santoro’s record dropped to 17-18 for the season.
In other match play, Finn Jarkko Nieminen, the fifth seed, handed teenaged Marko Djokovic — younger brother of top seeded Novak — a 6-2, 6-0 loss as the youngster played for the first time at the ATP level with a wild card entry. Italy’s Simone Bolelli beat Tomaz Bellucci of Brazil 6-3, 6-3, setting up an encounter with third seed Tomas Berdych.
Israel’s Shahar Peer reached the quarter-finals of the Korea Open with a straight-sets win over Japan’s Ayumi Morita yesterday, positioning herself for a run to the final.
After just two rounds, Peer is the only seeded player left in the bottom half of the draw after her 6-4, 7-5 win.
Her quarter-final opponent will be US veteran Jill Craybas.
Craybas yesterday downed towering Uzbek Agkul Amanmuradova 7-6 (1), 6-2.
In the other quarter-final match yesterday, Australia’s Samantha Stosur was to take on Russian Ekaterina Makarova.