Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga may still be on the comeback trail from a seven-month layoff last year due to left knee surgery. But the 33-year-old continues to show signs that he is returning closer to the form that helped him ascend as high as fifth in the ATP Rankings.
Tsonga overpowered German Cedrik-Marcel Stebe, who was competing for the first time since the 2018 Australian Open, 6-1, 7-6(3) on Monday in one hour and 21 minutes to reach the second round of the Grand Prix Hassan II in Marrakech. Tsonga has never lost a set at this Moroccan ATP 250 tournament, having cruised to the 2008 semi-finals when the event was held in Casablanca before withdrawing due to injury.
“It was my first match on clay in a while. So I'm happy that I won today. I did what I needed to do today and played well during the first set,” said Tsonga, whose last outdoor clay match came at 2017 Roland Garros. “It has been almost two years since I didn't play on outdoor clay. It's nice to be back on clay.”
It is Tsonga’s 12th tour-level win of the season after only earning five victories in 2018 due to his injury. While Tsonga is currently 116th in the ATP Rankings, he has shown good form so far this season. The veteran lifted the Montpellier trophy (as World No. 210), his first ATP Tour triumph since 2017 Antwerp, helping him stand at 26th in the ATP Race To London.
“I have been working well,” Tsonga said. “I hope that the work will pay off.”
Tsonga will need his best if he is to reach the quarter-finals, as he will play third seed Kyle Edmund in a second-round blockbuster. The Brit ousted Frenchman Ugo Humbert 6-3, 6-2.
In Edmund’s Marrakech debut last season, he advanced to his maiden ATP Tour final before falling to three-time champion Pablo Andujar. Edmund went on to earn his first title in Antwerp. He had little difficulty moving past the #NextGenATP Humbert on the red clay, saving all three break points he faced to move on after one hour and 19 minutes.
The player who benefitted from Tsonga’s 2008 semi-final withdrawal was Gilles Simon, who went on to capture the title. Simon is the fourth seed this year, and he played well to defeat Slovak Jozef Kovalik 6-4, 6-1 in 90 minutes.
“I’m happy with the match today. The first set was very tough and important to win,” Simon said. “This tournament is always a good start into the clay court season. I like it here, the conditions are good and I have good memories from when I won the tournament in Casablanca.”
Simon has long enjoyed success at this event, reaching the semi-finals in 2006 and the quarter-finals on three additional occasions, including last year. The Frenchman will next face Argentine Guido Andreozzi, who defeated Spaniard Albert Ramos-Vinolas 6-3, 7-6(5).
Did You Know?
Reigning Nitto ATP Finals champion Alexander Zverev, a wild card in Marrakech, begins his tournament on Tuesday against Uzbekistan's Denis Istomin.
More Monday Results
Taro Daniel (JAP) def. Mischa Zverev (GER) 6-1, 7-6(3)
Simone Bolelli (ITA)/Malek Jaziri (TUN) def. (3) Tim Puetz (GER)/Michael Venus (NZL) 3-6, 4-1 ret.
(4) Oliver Marach (AUT)/Philipp Oswald (AUT) def. Laslo Djere (SRB)/Nenad Zimonjic (SRB) 7-5, 3-6, 10-2