The world No1 insists his problematic right elbow is not hindering him as his title defence continues with a quarter-final against the No9 seed Tsonga
Novak Djokovic has finally put on his game face. After a faltering start to the tournament against Jerzy Janowicz, then a walkover and a retirement through to the fourth round, where he met and conquered a nervous Kyle Edmund, the world No1 would seem to be ready to go to work against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the quarter-finals on Tuesday as he builds strength and confidence in defence of his US Open title.
Yet the picture is not complete. In the small hours of Monday morning, after beating Edmund in three satisfactory sets, Djokovic was still in denial. In contravention of the visual evidence, he insisted there was nothing wrong with the right elbow he had confessed before the tournament was a concern to him. Two questions into the press conference, he was asked about the treatment to the troubled joint he received from a physiotherapist after being broken for the only time midway through the third set. No, it was good, he said. It was good. Everything was fine.
It did not seem so, as the physio vigorously massaged the elbow. And, when he returned to the court, it took him a good 10 minutes to regain his composure and rhythm before finishing impressively.
Asked a second time about the elbow, Djokovic said, I needed a little bit of massage. I like Clay [the physio]. That was a little deal we had before the match.
So, no pain? No. Why call the trainer then? As I said, I needed a little bit of a massage.
Djokovic wrote in his book, Serve To Win, in which he extols the virtues of a gluten-free diet: Were like precision instruments: if I am even the slightest bit off if my body is reacting poorly to the foods Ive eaten I simply cant play at the level it takes to beat these guys.
Although he is still searching for his complete best, there were several moments on Sunday evening when he came close to that level. Even allowing that he was helped by Edmunds kamikaze tennis, as the British player tried to out-hit him off the ground in a string of ill-thought-out exchanges, Djokovic played a lot of good tennis, mixing power and subtlety to bamboozle his young opponent.
Tsonga will be a different proposition altogether. The Frenchman, looking lean and fit, dropped a set in accounting for the very goodAustralian James Duckworth in round two, fought hard to beat Kevin Anderson in straight sets, then accounted for the American Jack Sock 6-3, 6-3, 6-7, 6-2. The world No11 sees his task in simple terms: For me its to always play the right shot, dont give him too many free points. Anyway, I will play my game. I will be aggressive, as always.
Of their 21 encounters, Tsonga has only caught Djokovic below-par a few times, including when he beat him in two quick sets in the Rogers Cup in Canada two years ago, and in the quarter-finals of the Australian Open in 2010, when he outlasted him over five sets. So if the Serb is not as fit as he says he is, there might be a chance for Tsonga. The last time they met, he took him to two tie-breaks before losing in the quarter-finals at Indian Wells this year.
It is true Djokovic has spent just a tick over five hours on court here and Tsonga has laboured for nearly 11, but it could be argued the Frenchman may be sharper through match fitness. And Djokovics fitness would seem to be the only issue of doubt surrounding him. No one questions his pedigree or desire and there was plenty of evidence of that in some exhilarating rallies against Edmund. He generally got the better of the close-quarter exchanges, which pleased him greatly and demonstrated his all-round game is in great shape.
He does not entertain concerns about his fitness, at least not publicly. Its good to play an entire match, Djokovic said. Im feeling very good, to be honest. I really wanted to start the match well, because I didnt have much time on the court overall before the fourth round.
Considering I had some struggles before the tournament, I feel great at this moment physically. Mentally as well, Im motivated. Coming into the second week of a grand slam quarter-finals feeling good, its exactly where I want to be.