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Tsonga blitzes Blake to reach quarters

Tuesday, January 27, 2009 , Posted by Linda at 11:24 AM

MELBOURNE (AFP) – France's fifth seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga destroyed American number two James Blake 6-4, 6-4, 7-6 (7/3) to reach the quarter-finals as his Australian Open love affair continued on Monday.

Tsonga blitzes Blake to reach quarters James Blake of the USr returns a forehand to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France in their tennis match

Tsonga, who reached his first tour final here last year, didn't face a break point until the third set and dominated the tie-break to wrap it up in two hours and 23 minutes.

"I think I'm playing better than last year," he said. "I'm stronger maybe in my head, and it helps a lot."

Blake, 29, was furious with the defeat, which leaves him scratching around for a significant Grand Slam performance at the tail-end of his career.

"It's a little frustrating. I didn't feel like I served well or returned well, otherwise it was okay," he said. "But those are pretty important bits of the game."

An early break was enough for the first set and Tsonga applied the same strategy in the second, following up three deep backhands with a cute volley on set point for a 2-0 lead.

After an intermission for Australia Day fireworks, Blake earned his first break points of the match and converted with a penetrating winner that left Tsonga flat-footed.

But he was foiled twice when serving for the set and Tsonga broke for 4-5 with a brilliantly anticipated volley and then an inch-perfect forehand.

Blake, looking increasingly unhappy, was soon behind in an error-strewn tie-break and Tsonga pummelled some big forehands for match point before sealing it with an ace.

"This year it's a bit different because I have more experience now and I'm playing better. I hope I'll get a better result," Tsonga said, admitting he was distracted by the fireworks display.

"I was a bit stressed so it was difficult to serve just after the fireworks," he said. "But I did the job in the end so I'm happy about that."

Tsonga, 23, ousted Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal on his way to last year's final where he was beaten by Serbian world number three Novak Djokovic.

He went on to win his first titles in Bangkok and Paris despite missing three months with knee surgery, finishing the year ranked sixth.

Tsonga missed much of 2005 and 2006 with injuries and pulled out of this month's Sydney International with a back problem.

Blake, 29, reached the quarter-finals last year but is yet to reach a Grand Slam semis in a career interrupted by a serious neck injury and illness in 2004.

Tsonga will next face Spain's Fernando Verdasco, who shocked Andy Murray earlier to reach his first Grand Slam quarter-final.

"That's a big surprise," he said. "Andy was the best player at the end of last season and he's world number four.

"But it's going to be tough against Fernando. He's a very good player, he's very confident in his game and it's going to be hard."

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