It’s New Year’s Eve and as many get ready to write their list of resolutions, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga is not shying away from setting himself some high targets for 2017.
A mixed 2016 saw Tsonga once again struggle with injuries that came at brutal timings, forcing him to retire from two of the four grand slams. He showed some positive signs of recovering his form towards the end of the year but ended the season ranked outside the top-10.
So it comes as no surprise that Tsonga is hoping for consistency more than anything else in 2017.
“To be honest, I have targets every year but every year it’s difficult to reach them,” Tsonga told reporters in Abu Dhabi Friday.
“But anyway I set them high to go as far as possible. The target for me in the short-term is to be in the top-10 and be consistently in the top-10; to be able to play against those guys every week and have an opportunity to win against them and go for it in big tournaments.”
Back in Abu Dhabi for his fourth Mubadala World Tennis Championship, the world No12 rebounded from his Thursday defeat to David Goffin by overcoming Tomas Berdych 6-7 (5), 6-3, 10-3 Friday.
The new season is yet to officially commence but David Goffin already received a dream confidence boost thanks to an impressive victory over world No1 Andy Murray on Friday to reach the Mubadala World Tennis Championship final.
The Abu Dhabi debutant had said before the tournament started that he felt no pressure attempting to back up his breakthrough 2016 that saw him rise to No11 in the world, and his form against Murray on Friday night explains why Goffin is calm about his chances in 2017.
The Belgian fought back from a break down in the second set to secure a 7-6 (4), 6-4 win over Murray, who owns a 5-0 head-to-head record against Goffin on the professional circuit.
Capitalising on his supreme footwork and strong baseline game, Goffin traded blows with Murray from the back of the court and came out on top to pull off the upset.
His reward is a first-ever showdown with Rafael Nadal in Saturday’s final (15:00) after the Spaniard overcame Milos Raonic 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 in last night’s other semi-final.
“He’s a big, talented player,” Nadal said of the 26-year-old Goffin.
“I’ve never played him in a tournament but we practiced together a lot of times. I know it’s going to be a very very tough match. He plays so quick and he plays so good so we’ll see if I’m able to put my rhythm on and hopefully I can change a little bit the directions and rhythm of the ball then I’m going to have more chances but if not, if he’s playing comfortable then it’s going to be impossible.”
Goffin had standout performances in the first half of 2016, making the semi-finals at Indian Wells and Miami before reaching a first grand slam quarter-final at Roland Garros in June. He grabbed two titles in Metz and Kitzbuhel and played one match at the ATP World Tour Finals as an alternate.
He showed on Friday night at Zayed Sports City why he is ranked amongst the best players in the world.
Some incredible baseline punches from both players produced an brilliant 19-shot rally that ended with a Murray forehand in the net that gifted Goffin two break points in game seven of the opening set.
But the world No1 got out of trouble to hold for 4-3. The set fittingly went to a tiebreak and it was Goffin who drew first blood, benefitting from a netted forehand from Murray to go up 3-1. The Belgian lost his advantage but a Murray forehand error handed him another minibreak Goffin aced to close out the set in style.
In the second set, a netted Goffin backhand gave Murray two break points and the Scot slammed a backhand return winner to get the break and inch ahead 3-2.
Goffin got a chance to retaliate right away but Murray’s serve came to the rescue and he consolidated his break.
Murray fought off two more break points in the eighth game but a backhand volley from Goffin saw the Belgian break back and draw level for 4-all.
Serving to stay in the match at 4-5, Murray led 40-15 but Goffin never relented, taking four points in a row to wrap up a memorable victory.
“I was striking the ball well. It was a pretty high-quality match for the first match in the year after a break so it was good, just a bit unfortunate in the end,” Murray said on court.
He will face Milos Raonic in the third-place playoff Saturday.
On his part, Goffin was pleased to post wins over the likes of Murray and Tsonga over the past two days.
“I don’t know for the others, maybe it doesn’t mean anything because maybe Andy would manage differently if it would have been a serious match but for me I just tried from the beginning of the tournament to treat it like a real tournament and that’s why I’m really happy because for me if I don’t take it seriously then it doesn’t mean anything to play this tournament,” explained Goffin.
“So I’m just trying to be really serious and really focused on what I have to do and it gives me a lot of confidence for the next season. Maybe it doesn’t mean anything but for me it’s really important to feel my game.”
Nadal, the defending champion in Abu Dhabi, followed up his punishing win over Tomas Berdych on day one with another positive showing against Raonic last night.
The Spanish world No9 saved four of the five break points he faced, and landed 76 per cent of his first serves en route to a one-hour 41-minute victory.
The 14-time major champion had not competed since an opening round loss in Shanghai in October as he opted to pull the plug early on his 2016 season to recover from wrist and hand problems.
He said he came to Abu Dhabi with no expectations but any doubts he had will have surely dissolved after a strong two days of competition in the capital.
“It’s true that yesterday it was a very impressive first set and a very impressive match in general. Today it was a good match again, a little bit worse than yesterday but still a very positive match, a good victory over a great player,” said Nadal.
“I’m surprised or not? It doesn’t matter, I know I’ve been practicing a lot and quite well. I didn’t expect to play as well as I played yesterday but I expected to play okay because I feel like I was practicing the right way.”
The Spaniard was in stunning form as he routed his Czech opponent, showing signs that he is closing in on his best tennis.
Nadal, who missed the last few months of the 2016 season due to injury, will face Canadian Milos Raonic on Friday for a place in the showpiece New Year’s Eve Abu Dhabi final.
“Every shot with my forehand, I created something – that’s the way I need to play if I want to have success.
“It was a great match because in all aspects I did well,” the 30-year-old said post-match.
Earlier on day one, Belgian David Goffin cruised past close friend Jo-Wilfried Tsonga to kick-off the tournament in style.
The World No.11 got the better of the Frenchman, winning 7-6 6-4, to book his spot in the semi-finals at Zayed Sports City.
It is there where Goffin will meet World No.1 Andy Murray – a player he has failed to beat in the last five meetings.
“I have played against him many times and it’s always tough. It’s tough to find a weakness in his game and he has been playing amazing tennis for a long time now.
“But it’s a nice match to play here on this Centre Court and I will try to play my best tennis,” the 26-year-old said.