The notion of athletes “wanting it more” than one another must be one of the most insufferably inane tropes of sports analysis, but halfway through an Australian Open match between Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Stan Wawrinka the commentators began flinging it, and at some point it actually began to stick. Tsonga looked inexplicably sapped of willpower in this quarterfinal against Stan Wawrinka. Despite being gifted the tastiest possible opportunity to break back into it, he just faded away, 7-6 (2), 6-4, 6-3.
After a tight first set that saw both parties hold serve with very few complications, the match seemed primed for a long slugfest. Both Tsonga and Wawrinka were serving emphatically and producing big pace on their preferred shots, the forehand and one-handed backhand respectively. Wawrinka would controlled the tiebreak. During the changeover, the two took part in a petulant, moronic exchange in French. The gist is that Tsonga told Wawrinka to stop looking at him—perhaps referring to a staredown after winning the tiebreak—but Wawrinka, an ornery type who’s no stranger to on-court beefs, claims not to know what he’s talking about.
Just two elite athletes, chirping like two preteens who’ve spent too long in the backseat of a overheated minivan. (Their friendship has reportedly been tense since the 2014 Davis Cup, and since then Stan has begun to rack up the Grand Slams, leaving his one-time equal in the dust.)
Despite this weird interlude, the second set proceeded much as the first did, with neither player getting a good look at a break. Then at 3-3, stuck at deuce on his service game, Wawrinka, whacked a deep approach shot, then pulled Tsonga way off the court with a sharply angled volley. All night he’d been reliable at cutting points short at the net—he won 17 out of 20 net points in this match—and this looked to be more of the same, but with the whole blue sea of open court ready to receive his winner, he shanked an easy backhand volley. This gave the Frenchman break point to go up 4-3, which he capitalized on. From there, all he’d have to do is hold serve to level things at one set a piece. Instead, he proceeded to lose three straight service games, spurting unforced errors and relinquishing that winnable set, then giving up an early lead in the next one. The final set felt like a mere formality.
Wawrinka played fine if not excellent tennis, buffeting his backhand for a few down-the-line gems, delivering some one-two punches with serves out wide followed up by opposite-corner forehand winners—but this match was mostly the story of Tsonga’s collapse, which was plainly visible and frustrating to spectate. Wawrinka will need far more ammunition to challenge Roger Federer in their all-Swiss semifinal, as he takes yet another look at the countryman who’s had his number in their 18-3 history.