Commentary

No Djoking around for Tsonga in Oz

Updated: January 26, 2010, 6:39 PM ET
By Ravi Ubha | ESPN.com

MELBOURNE, Australia -- In unison, the crowd at Hisense Arena chanted, "Tsonga, Tsonga," encouraging Jo-Wilfried Tsonga as the Frenchman battled in a fifth set with sleeping giant Nicolas Almagro of Spain. Tsonga eventually prevailed 9-7 to set up a rematch of the 2008 Australian Open final with Novak Djokovic.

Here's our Day 10 breakdown:

Novak Djokovic (3) versus Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (10)

Head to head: Tsonga leads 4-2

It's the first month of the season and already the health concerns are mounting. Andy Roddick hurt his shoulder Sunday, joining Justine Henin as part of the walking wounded. Juan Martin del Potro, Dinara Safina and Tsonga were already carrying injuries, not to mention Almagro. Then there are those returning from one problem or another.

"Everybody has an injury somewhere," Tsonga's coach, Eric Winogradsky, said with a nervous smile.

But Tsonga has had more hiccups than most the past few years. A bad back limited his appearances in 2005 and 2006, and a dodgy knee forced the charismatic 24-year-old to skip Wimbledon and the French Open in 2008, post his Melbourne heroics.

This year, he pulled out of the Qatar Open and an earlier exhibition due to a sore wrist that's still far from 100 percent. Tsonga began his 2010 preparations Dec. 9 in Paris following a delayed finish to the previous campaign. He was an alternate at the year-end championships in London.

"The wrist is getting better and better with treatment every day," Winogradsky, a former touring pro, said of Tsonga. "He's doing a lot of things for it, but the best would be to stop for a few weeks. That's not possible. The pain is going down, but very slowly."

Winogradsky couldn't hide his excitement, rising from his chair and trembling with emotion after Tsonga put away an easy volley to overcome Almagro in the fourth round.

Tsonga bent but didn't break in the fifth set, thwarting break points in two different games. The only time Almagro was under threat came in the game he was broken.

Blowing a two-set lead was tempered by winning his first fifth set -- in his first attempt. The match wasn't overly long for one that went the distance -- 3½ hours, thanks to quick points.

Tsonga, vowing to be more intense as he takes the court this season, turned comedian when asked what he learned about Djokovic since losing their clash here.

"What I learned, I don't know," he told reporters. "But I beat him four times, I think, since that moment. So I learned to beat [him]."

Tsonga marks Djokovic's first test of any kind. Djokovic's opponents, in order, have been the quartet of Daniel Gimeno-Traver, Marco Chiudinelli, Denis Istomin, and Lukasz Kubot.

Shaky in the heat against Chiudinelli, a good pal of Roger Federer's, Djokovic didn't mess around against Istomin and Kubot, conceding 12 games.

Djokovic told reporters he wasn't concerned about making the leap from Kubot to Tsonga. The game plan is simple.

"I just have to keep pressuring him and apply my style," said Djokovic, venturing forward more. "Not allow him to control the match."

Prediction: Djokovic in four.

Roger Federer (1) versus Nikolay Davydenko (6)

Head to head: Federer leads 12-2

Davydenko knows what he's up against in Federer. The Swiss hasn't lost prior to the semifinals at a major since 2004 at Wimbledon. He sizzled against fading Aussie Lleyton Hewitt in his last match.

[+] EnlargeNikolay Davydenko
William West/Getty ImagesDespite two straight wins over Roger Federer, Nikolay Davydenko is an underdog in their quarterfinal encounter.

So, it was no surprise to hear the Russian claim, despite his two straight victories against Federer, that he wasn't the favorite. It also relieves a bit of the pressure, of course.

"He's No. 1," Davydenko told reporters. "I'm No. 6. Why I need to be favorite if I'm not No. 1?"

Davydenko fans, and they're growing in number given his humorous news conferences, won't like what they witnessed Monday. Davydenko faltered in a fourth-set tiebreaker, a deer-in-the-headlights look, when ahead 5-4 with two serves against Fernando Verdasco. Verdasco had Davydenko in trouble in the latter's first three service games in the fifth, without taking advantage.

Davydenko has also spoken about how fragile his confidence is.

No such problems for Federer. He's hardly put a foot wrong since being threatened in the first round by Igor Andreev.

"I obviously favor my chances in a best-of-five-set match," he told reporters.

Most others agree with him.

Prediction: Federer in four.

Serena Williams (1) versus Victoria Azarenka (7)

Head to head: Williams leads 3-1

Williams, part owner of the Miami Dolphins with sister Venus, has football on her mind.

She drew inspiration from Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre and is rooting for the Indianapolis Colts in the upcoming Super Bowl, given her friendship with QB Peyton Manning.

It hasn't been a distraction, judging from her performance through four rounds. Williams hasn't lost a set and her serve fired against Aussie Samantha Stosur on Monday, despite continuing to play with strapping to her leg.

"It's holding up well," Williams told reporters. "I think it's all about adrenaline out there. When I step on the court I feel great. Sometimes before there I am struggling."

Azarenka, highly temperamental on court, lacks an inferiority complex facing Williams, unlike many others on the tour. In the fourth round last year, she had the 11-time Grand Slam champion on the ropes before a heat-induced illness prompted a retirement.

"I forgot about it already," said Azarenka, who has since swapped coaches with her fourth-round victim, Vera Zvonareva.

She took advantage of an injured Williams to win the Sony Ericsson Open, too.

Williams, however, is rolling.

Prediction: Williams in two.

Venus Williams (6) versus Li Na (16)

Head to head: Li leads 1-0

Venus Williams is looking almost as good as Serena, dropping a solitary set. When the going got tough in the fourth round against Italian Francesca Schiavone, a fine competitor who chases down every ball, Williams upped her game.

Williams didn't miss from the baseline and posed a threat coming forward.

"I was really in the moment and just focusing on what I needed to do in that moment," she told reporters. "It worked out for me, so it was good."

In Li, she encounters a hard-hitting baseliner appearing in her second consecutive major quarterfinal. Ravaged by injuries in the past, the 27-year-old is seemingly healthier than ever.

Li upset fourth-seeded Caroline Wozniacki in straight sets in the fourth round and ousted Williams in the quarterfinals of the Olympics on home soil. More inspiration comes from countrywoman Zheng Jie, who reached the semifinals in the other half.

Her tactic against Williams: "Don't think too much," she told reporters.

An all-Williams semifinal it is.

Prediction: Williams in three.

Ravi Ubha is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.

London-based Ravi Ubha covers soccer and tennis for ESPN.com.