When Michael Llodra drew fellow Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the first round of Australian Open 2013 there was sure to be some sense of apprehension from the 32-year-old. Tsonga, the world No.8, had won three straight against French opponents and held a 5-0 head-to-head lead - which included three Llodra retirements in those five meetings.
But while stats don’t always tell the full story, their trend certainly continued Tuesday on Hisense Arena as Tsonga downed Llodra 6-4 7-5 6-2.
Tsonga, a runner-up at the 2008 Australian Open, came into the year’s first Grand Slam in sound form after going undefeated in Perth at the Hopman Cup, and continued his winning ways.
“I’m really happy with my tennis today. It’s never easy to play a guy like Michael because he’s very offensive. The points are very short and you really have to focus on every shot,” Tsonga said.
While the seventh seed didn’t dominate the match by any means, he simply outplayed Llodra when it mattered. Tsonga broke his opponent at 4-4 in the first set – which he eventually won 6-4 – and at 5-5 in the second which he won 7-5. The ability to break Llodra at the most opportune moment proved invaluable as Tsonga's own serving performance was stellar – the 27-year-old won 82 per cent of his points when landing his first serve.
Llodra – who has had great success as a doubles player including three Grand Slam titles at the Australian Open and Wimbledon – brought his doubles mindset into the match by approaching the net 54 times, primarily via a serve-volley approach.
But Tsonga was up to the task, regularly outclassing his opponent via swift passing shots or groundstrokes hit hard and flat at his body.
“It’s difficult and a bit different to play but I think it’s tough to play the serve-and-volley game because of the quality of the returns,” he said after the match.
Tonga's class was on full display at 1-1 in the third set – Tsonga up two sets to love at this point – after the seventh seed boldly stepped into a backhand from the baseline, whipping the ball crosscourt for a superb passing shot well out of Llodra's reach. The shot helped him set up another crucial break to which he took full advantage of, from there steamrolling Llodra to close out the match 6-2 in the third set.
Tsonga will play Go Soeda in the second round after the Japanese defeated Australian Luke Saville in four sets on Tuesday.