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It was only a matter of who blinked first — or perhaps collapsed from exhaustion.
In an absurd test of will and endurance, France’s Jo-Wilfried Tsonga outlasted Canada’s Milos Raonic 6-3, 3-6, 25-23 in a record-setting match at the London 2012 Olympic Games on Tuesday. The three-hour third set was the longest in Olympic history.
It was a gutsy performance from Raonic, who gave the fifth-seeded Tsonga all he could handle. But Raonic’s inability to deliver the knockout blow ultimately cost him the match, which was delayed for several hours due to rain.
“I felt like I played really well for most of the match and I just let it slip away from me at the end,” Raonic said. “I felt I was creating more opportunities and I was holding quite a bit more handedly, so it was unfortunate I couldn’t make the most of my opportunities and it just got away from me.”
Raonic converted just one of eight break point opportunities and missed several glaring chances to turn the tide in his favour. Tsonga converted two of five break point opportunities.
But the 21-year-old Thornhill, Ont., native showed a lot of poise in crucial moments against the vastly experienced Tsonga and demonstrated more fluidity in his play, using a variety of ground strokes and an improved return game to keep the Frenchman at bay.
“I did a lot of things well. I just wish I could have done just a few things better,” Raonic said. “I think it’s just things that come down to dealing with certain moments of the match better, so I think that just comes through experience. I felt there has maybe been a few matches I have dealt with a little bit better — but this has to be up there as far as technical play goes.”
Tsonga won the first set 6-3 after breaking Raonic’s serve early on. Raonic bounced back in the second set, breaking Tsonga to go 2-0 before going back to his bread and butter and smashing an ace to take a firm 3-0 lead. He went on to win the set 6-3.
In the third set, both players repeatedly held serve until Tsonga finally went up 0-40 for triple triple match point in the 48th game of the set. Raonic saved the first break point of the game but Tsonga won the next to claim the win on the set’s 257th point.
The highly-publicized match lived up to its promise as a high-octane, heavy-hitting tilt, as Raonic finished with 23 aces to Tsonga’s 17. The two also combined for 134 winners.
“He served unbelievable, it’s really difficult,” Tsonga said of his opponent. “But I was strong tonight and I am really happy to go through.”
Raonic and Tsonga are among the hardest-hitters in tennis. In 39 matches in 2012, Raonic is second on the ATP Tour with 609 aces. Tsonga is eighth with 386 in 47 matches.
It was the first match between Raonic and Tsonga. They were set to face each other at the Davis Cup in February before Raonic was forced to withdraw with an injury.
Tsonga will play Spain’s Feliciano Lopez in the third round.