By Scott Williams ,AFP
VIENNA — Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga will be forced to push on this week with a fragile knee as the final rush to the ATP year-end event enters the last three weeks of qualifying time for the eight-man wrap-up in London. Tsonga has returned to the Austrian Open for the first time since his debut appearance which resulted in a 2011 title.
Though he might prefer to rest his knee, last week’s Shanghai Masters semi-finalist knows that only a determined effort indoors at the Stadthalle will suffice. Tsonga stands provisional ninth in the points race to the World Tour Finals starting on Nov. 4. He has a bye in the Vienna first round — all the better to help him recover from his day-long flight from Asia — and will play the winner from German Daniel Brands and Austrian Andreas Haider-Maurur in the second round. “If I want to go to London, I have to play,” Tsonga admitted before leaving Asia after his loss to eventual Shanghai champion Novak Djokovic. “I will play, and that’s it. “I just have to play and try to win as much as possible. That’s it.” The former Australian Open finalist is in a slightly better position than he lets on, with Scot Andy Murray already qualified but not playing at the year-ender as he recovers from February back surgery.
That development means that at the moment, the leading nine point earners — including Tsonga — would enter the London field. But Tsonga has to watch his fitness after sitting out from Wimbledon through to Metz in September with his knee worries. This week in the Austrian capital marks his fourth event in the last five weeks, a heavy stress on even a fully-fit player, Tsonga remains an optimist. “I’m going better and better, and I know I can play a lot better. I’ll continue to work, I think I’m on a good way.” Monday’s opening day featured an ultra-light schedule with just two main draw matches set. Both are Czech seeds, who are using the last three weeks of the regular season to prepare for next month’s Davis Cup final in Belgrade against Djokovic and Serbia. Veteran Radek Stepanek began as he beat Austrian Martin Fischer 7-5, 6-3 while eighth seed Lukas Rosol produced a mirror-image victory 6-3, 7-5 over Jesse Huta Galung of the Netherlands. Both matches also took an identical 65 minutes with Rosol firing 13 aces in victory. The tournament will be missing two-time champion Juergen Melzer, who was forced to pull out and end his season due to a shoulder tendon injury. The 32-year-old won his fifth career title at Winston-Salem in August.