NEW YORK — His match slipping away, Jo Wilfried-Tsonga tried to win a point with a delicate drop volley.
His opponent, Martin Klizan, got there and punched a lob over Tsonga’s head.
Tsonga jogged back, barely turned around and gave a halfhearted swat at the ball, which never got more than about 2 feet off the ground before landing harmlessly in the net.
That sequence pretty much summed up the day for the No. 5 Frenchman, who on Thursday became the highest-seeded player to exit at the U.S. Open. He lost 6-4, 1-6, 6-1, 6-3 to the 52nd-ranked Klizan. It’s the first time Tsonga has failed to make the third round of a Grand Slam tournament he’s played since 2007.
“I’m not a machine,” Tsonga said. “Sometimes I’m tired, sometimes not. Sometimes in good shape, sometimes not.”
Pretty much everything about this match fell in the “not” category, meaning if someone other than Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic or Andy Murray is going to shock the tennis world and win this tournament, it will not be the 27-year-old Frenchman.
Tsonga has always been honest in assessing the state of his game – and his chances – and he has made headlines back home by saying a Frenchman is nowhere near the cusp of winning the French Open. Before play started at Flushing Meadows this year, he said if he were a betting man, he wouldn’t wager on France at the U.S. Open either.
He cashed it in less than a week into the tournament against his Slovak opponent, whose first-ever match against a top-10 player (No. 10 John Isner) and first-ever win against a top-50 opponent (No. 49 Benoit Paire) each came only a week ago in Winston-Salem.
“For me, it’s no different if there’s a No. 5 player or a No. 100 player,” Klizan said. “It doesn’t matter. I want to play a good game every match. But I had no pressure. If I lose, then I lose.”
At times, it looked as if Tsonga felt the same way.
He veered from seemingly hitting every ball as hard as he could, to barely moving his feet and reaching for balls he’d normally get to with ease. He lost 10 of 11 games to fall down by a set and behind 4-0 in the fourth, then rallied briefly to get to 4-3.
Serving to stay in the match down 5-3 and deuce, he spun in a second serve at 86 mph, which Klizan turned on for an easy forehand winner. On match point, Tsonga tried to serve and volley, but the return came at him low and Tsonga slid the racket in front of him and knocked the shot two feet wide.
Before he left the court a few minutes later, he handed his racket to a kid in the stands.
Later, he was asked more than once if he was injured. No.
If he should consider taking more time off. No.
If he’s just, plain exhausted from the long, grueling season that included a 25-23 third-set victory over Milos Raonic in the second round of the London Olympics. After all, Federer and Djokovic pick their spots.
“I have to play because I’m not Federer, not Djokovic,” Tsonga said. “And if I want to keep my ranking and not have to play these guys in the round of 16, I have to play these tournaments.”