It’s never easy to play a friend and countryman, especially when you know he has been struggling with an injury, but Jo-Wilfried Tsonga put aside his feelings for Gilles Simon and powered into the last 16 with a 7-6(5) 6-4 6-2 victory on Saturday night.
"It's always difficult when you play a friend, I've known him since we were nine or 10," said Tsonga. “It's like we create a little war."
Simon had nearly dropped out of the tournament before it began after he sustained an ankle injury at Kooyong, but he decided to give it a go and ended up pulling off two remarkable five-set victories to get to the third round.
Seeded No. 18, Simon came back from a two-sets-to-one deficit and saved seven match points in his 16-14 in the fifth set win over Daniel Brands in the first round. He then won a four-hour five-setter over Marin Cilic in the second round.
Simon even changed his playing style during the tournament as his injury did not allow him to counterpunch as much as he'd like, so he consistently attacked the net.
He had a modicum of success using that strategy against Tsonga, but the Australian Open 2008 finalist was happy to keep the points short and essentially matched around the cords, approaching 27 times and winning 20 of those points, while Simon came to net 28 times and won 23 of those points.
Had the 28-year-old Simon taken the first-set tie-breaker, he might have been able to dig into the match, but Tsonga stayed strong and won it when he torched a big serve that Simon netted.
After that, Tsonga seized control, fighting off all three break points he faced and finishing the contest with 40 winners to just 21 from Simon.
“It was a good match, a full match,” Tsonga said.
“Maybe at the beginning I was a bit tight, but after that I played great. I will continue to get up my level.”
Tsonga will face five-time champion Roger Federer in the fourth round. The Swiss took him out in a classic five-setter in the Australian Open quarterfinals a year ago, but Tsonga got a measure of revenge at Roland Garros, thumping him in straight sets in the quarters.
“For me it's the possibility to take revenge because last year I lost against him,” Tsonga said.
“It's a good opportunity for me to play him again. It's always nice to play against such a good player. The tournament continues for me and I'm feeling good.”