BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA: France were locked at 1-1 with Argentina in their Davis Cup by BNP Paribas quarterfinal at Parque Roca after Jo-Wilfried Tsonga battled back for a five-set win over Carlos Berlocq and Gilles Simon fell to Juan Monaco in three.
Tsonga won 46 62 63 57 62 in three hours and 53 minutes, Monaco was quicker in levelling the match, beating Simon 76 62 64 in two and a half hours.
The French No. 1 said he had expected a difficult match and his fears were confirmed in the first set which Berlocq dominated after breaking in the opening game.
“We both played with our hearts,” said the big Frenchman, who was unable to impose his game until the second set.
“My objective was to install my game and from the start to make him run, using my right (drive) a lot, and when he was tired my chances increased,” he said.
Tsonga said that in discussions with captain Arnaud Clement before the match, they had talked about the passionate home crowd.
“We knew it would be complicated. The crowd shout a lot between the first and second serve. I decided not to say anything (to the umpire) because I knew about it. Each time they made a noise I had time to get more concentrated,” he said.
Berlocq, a late developer making waves in Davis Cup after years off the radar on the challenger circuit, looked capable of another upset after beating Philipp Kohlschreiber in Argentina’s first round, 5-0 win over Germany.
The 30-year-old Argentine was fearless, giving better than he got from the baseline and surprising the French No. 1 with near perfect drop shots at the net.
Tsonga, however, was largely dominant in the rest of the match although Berlocq fought back to take it into a fifth set.
Tsonga appeared upset by a controversial point in the 11th game of the fourth set when chair umpire Carlos Ramos ruled a double bounce when the Frenchman stretched to retrieve a Berlocq drop shot at the net having appeared to reach the ball fairly first time.
“I had no problem with the umpire, I simply pleaded with him to give me the point of that ball that only bounced once,” Tsonga said.
“I was close to the best victory of my career and I didn’t get it,” Berlocq, ranked 71st, said with regret.
“I’m sad because of that and it’s also not fair given the match I played. It could have been a great achievement, I was close to going down in history, but to have played at that pace with the world No. 8 is good.
“I think I surprised him, he didn’t start at his best. If his strategy was to make me run I don’t know if it was so good because that’s what I like most.”
Monaco, who has not had a very good start to the season after breaking into the top 10 last year, won the battle of top-20 players after a wobble in the opening set when he allowed Simon to come back from 4-1 down before steadying himself and winning it in the tiebreak.
He made home advantage pay against an opponent he has known since they competed against each other as juniors to produce some of his best tennis.
“I expected two very tight matches, with the record the Argentines have had at home for years,” Clement said.
“Both Argentines played their best tennis today, Monaco played his best tennis of the season for an hour.”
Clement was not downhearted, pointing out that he had said from the beginning “the match is 50-50 and I still think that way now.”
Simon said he felt a pain in his lower back in the final game of the opening set and was not sure how well he might be for Sunday’s return singles.
“I felt all right at the end, I had a difficult moment during the second set after losing the first,” he said.
In Saturday’s doubles, Julien Benneteau and Michael Llodra face David Nalbandian and Horacio Zeballos.
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Juan Monaco (ARG) - 05/04/2013
Gilles Simon (FRA) - 05/04/2013
Carlos Berlocq (ARG) - 05/04/2013
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (FRA) - 05/04/2013