Second seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga bludgeoned close friend Gael Monfils into submission with a 6-3, 7-6 (10-8) victory in a first-round French rendezvous at the US$1.43 million Japan Open yesterday.
World No. 7 Juan Martin del Potro heads the Tokyo field in the absence of Wimbledon champion Andy Murray, who pulled out to undergo minor back surgery.
The giant Argentine, the US Open winner in 2009, faces Cyprus’ Marcos Baghdatis today in his opening match at the venue for the 2020 Olympic tennis competition.
Tsonga and Monfils live close to each other in Switzerland, and often socialize together, but the French connection counted for little once they stepped on court as Tsonga — frequently likened to Muhammad Ali because of his looks and physique — overpowered his compatriot with a brutal display of hitting.
The world No. 8, still feeling his way back from a knee injury, bulldozed his way to a 3-0 lead before taking the first set with a vicious serve which was too hot for Monfils to handle.
“It’s always difficult to play a friend,” Tsonga told reporters. “I’ve known Gael such a long time. We hang out, we play video games, go out for dinner. So it wasn’t fun, but on court you give 100 percent out of respect for your friend.”
Monfils, brightening up center court with his brilliant orange attire, began badly off-key, but made more of a fist of the second set, forcing a tiebreak. However, Tsonga, the 2009 Japan Open champion, simply had too much firepower and a fourth win in five meetings was never in serious doubt.
Having frittered away his first three match points in the tiebreaker, Tsonga clinched it 10-8 with a classic knockout blow, a huge forehand into the corner setting up a simple put-away volley after 1 hour, 31 minutes.
Tsonga retired from the second round at Wimbledon and only returned in Metz, France, a week ago, reaching the final.
In other matches, sixth seed Nicolas Almagro of Spain beat qualifier Benjamin Becker 7-6 (7/4), 7-6 (7/3), while Ukraine’s Alexandr Dolgopolov completed a bad day for Germany with a 6-3, 6-1 thrashing of Daniel Brands.