By John Delong
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga suffered a deep gash on his right leg when he ran into a fire hydrant in a bizarre accident while in Toronto two weeks ago.
It forced him to miss last week’s tournament at Cincinnati and made this week’s Winston-Salem Open an even bigger priority before he goes into next week’s US Open.
So the 27-year-old Frenchman was pleased after rolling to a 6-1, 7-6 (3) second-round victory over Thomasz Bellucci on Tuesday night in his Winston-Salem Open debut.
"I was happy to win, you know, because I am here to win, and that’s it," Tsonga said. "So for me, it was a good match to start."
The World No. 6 and top seed in this tournament was every bit as entertaining as advertised, much to the delight of the crowd at the Wake Forest Tennis Complex. And when he needed to be, he was totally dominant. He cruised in the first set, and then after some erratic play in the second set, he breezed through the tiebreaker, jumping out to a 6-1 lead and eventually serving out the match.
"I knew I had to keep focused on this one," he said. "I was a bit more quiet because the second set many occasions I had to finish it, and then I played better in the tiebreak and it was enough. I know the tiebreaker is good for me because I serve well. So I put a lot of pressure on him."
Tsonga’s win came after defending champion John Isner had to come from behind in a 4-6, 6-3, 7-5 victory over Martin Klizan. The win moved Tsonga into a third-round match against qualifier Sergiy Stakhovsky on Wednesday afternoon.
Tsonga poked himself a little bit in describing the accident in Toronto, and said that his leg is now fine.
"I was supposed to go shopping and I was in the street," he said. "It was raining so I was close to the wall of many buildings, and I was walking and I don’t know where was my head at this moment, but I didn’t see the thing and I just hurt it. But I have recovered."
He had already committed to play in the Winston-Salem Open before the injury because he was looking for hardcourt matches leading into the US Open. Coming into this week, he had played only one hardcourt match – losing his first match in Toronto – since winning a silver medal in doubles at the London Olympics, played on grass at Wimbledon.
"For me it was important to play a hardcourt before the US Open," he said. "I didn’t really play well the last couple of weeks. I was not happy with my game. So I felt this is a good experience for me because I have had some rest and practiced up and I arrived here in good shape and I want to win many matches before the US, because when I play with confidence, I’m a better player."
Isner, the third seed and No. 10 in the latest ATP rankings, had his hands full from the start against Klizan, a 23-year-old lefthander from Slovakia who is ranked No. 50.
Klizan broke Isner in the third game and went on to win the first set 6-4. Isner finally got his first break of the match – at love -- to go up 5-3 in the second set and served out. Then he got another break – again at love – to go up 6-5 in the third set, and he served out to run his career record on the Wake Forest Tennis Complex Stadium Court to a perfect 6-0. He ended it, fittingly, with a 143 mph ace.
"There are no easy matches out here," Isner said. "I rarely have them. But fortunately for me I’ve been in these situations before where the match will come down to a point here or there, so it’s not something that’s foreign to me, and I’m comfortable with it. This match was exactly that, and fortunately I was able to raise my game at the end, which I needed to."
Isner said he expected as much, after taking a week off last week and skipping Cincinnati.
"To be honest, I wasn’t surprised," he said. "After Toronto, I needed to rest quite a bit, so it was more about resting than practicing. So I thought this match was going to be tough, and that’s exactly what it was. The first one normally is the toughest. And give credit to him. He came out and he was playing pretty well, and I wasn’t on top of my game and that’s all it took in the first set. From that point on I knew it was going to be a battle."
Isner will take on 13th-seeded Jurgen Melzer Wednesday.
He knows the road ahead is tough, and said he knows it will be difficult to defend his WSO title.
"I got better in each match in last year’s tournament, and that’s what I hope to do this year," Isner said. "It’s not that I played poorly today, but I think I can play better. This tournament, though, it’s pretty tough. It’s tougher than last year. There are no easy matches and I know my opponent tomorrow is very tough."
In other evening matches, Ernests Gulbis beat Kevin Anderson 6-4, 7-6 (2), and No. 6 seed Marcel Granollers beat Ryan Harrison 6-4, 6-2.