Photo: Eisele/Giubilo/ZimmerMichael Llodra (FRA) and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (FRA)
LONDON, GREAT BRITAIN: Frenchmen Michael Llodra and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga are through to the men’s doubles final after a titanic three and a half hour defeat of David Ferrer and Feliciano Lopez, and after fending off four match points to the Spaniards en route.
The No. 2 seeds secured the 6-3 4-6 18-16 victory on their first match point, sending the crowd on Court 1 into a frenzy amidst wonderful celebrations on court. Following the straight-sets defeat of countrymen Julien Benneteau and Richard Gasquet to the Bryan brothers earlier in the day, Llodra and Tsonga have salvaged French hopes of a medal at the Olympic Tennis Event. They will now battle for gold against No. 1 seeds the Bryans in Saturday’s final.
Each team only need to break serve just once to claim a set each, before what ended up being a 2 hour 23 minute final set. It had been a slow start for the Spaniards, with Ferrer appearing somewhat passive at the back of the court, but once Tsonga’s serve had been broken in the very last game of the second set and the Spanish had jumped quickly to a 2-0 lead in the final set and looked in charge, it didn’t really look like this match would end up becoming an epic.
But the French immediately broke the Lopez serve and from that point on they went toe-to-toe with some high energy tennis, with neither team managing to get the better of the other.
As the match crept into the 17th game, the Spaniards were on the glimpse of victory and facing three match points but a brilliant response from Llodra – two huge serves and an ace – set up a hold of serve and the match marched on.
A fourth match point for the Spaniards came four games later which was once again saved by Llodra and then it was France’s turn to be on the brink of victory for the first time as they broke to lead 13-12 – an opportunity they surrendered immediately in the next game.
Fighting to the bitter end, the Frenchmen’s chance came again when they broke Ferrer’s serve to lead 17-16. The Spaniard smashed his racket in anger while across the stands, the French contingent (including French Tennis Federation president Jean Gachassin) were wild on their feet. At 30-30 in the final game, two further errors from Ferrer secured France’s spot in the final.
The victory sets up a thrilling decider against the Bryans. Llodra will be looking to erase two very significant defeats to the American top seeds – his loss with Clement in the bronze medal match four years ago in Beijing, and again with Clement in the Wimbledon final just a few weeks ago.
At the same time Llodra, ranked world No. 6 in doubles, has been on the winning end of several high profile matches against the Bryans, including the 2007 Wimbledon final with Clement, and the 2004 Australian Open final, 2004 Roland Garros semifinals and 2005 Tennis Masters Cup semifinals. And with Tsonga, also ranked No. 6 in singles, the chance of a French gold is definitely on the cards.
"Four years ago it was not to be, but now it is our time," says Tsonga.
For Ferrer and Lopez, who put in an incredible performance given their scratch pairing, they will have to battle it out against another French team, Benneteau and Gasquet, for the bronze medal.
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