Bad Timing: Tsonga had one foot in the final before he injured himself

Despite the volume of injury-related news that has risen to the foreground of men’s tennis, I haven’t recently learned of many stories marked by the acute strain of misfortune that befell Dustin Brown on Wednesday. In case you missed what happened to the dreadlocked, flamboyant, ever serve-and-volleying journeyman, I’ll explain: his back gave out at the most inopportune moment imaginable, and he was forced to retire when potentially three points away from netting a first-round victory over Nicolas Mahut at the Open Sud de France last Wednesday. This was a tough break for Brown not only due to it being the untoward intervention of injury (as opposed to a last-ditch effort from Mahut) that robbed him of what was to be a fine win, but also because the points earned for making even the slimmest progress in an ATP main draw are like gold dust to anyone who has spent as long as he has trying to escape from the lower reaches of the professional tennis circuit.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, playing on Saturday a semi-final match against Lucas Pouille at the very same tournament, also got to experience first-hand the instantaneous finality with which injury can unravel a good day’s work. During the game in which Pouille (who eventually won the event in Montpellier by beating Richard Gasquet) served to save his place in the semi-final, Tsonga missed out on two match points. Shortly after those two opportunities to put an end to the match slipped away from him, Tsonga tweaked what I first suspected was his left knee when stretching for a volley. Pouille held to nudge the score to 4-5, so Tsonga played on in the hope of closing out the match on his serve. This roll of the dice was to no avail, however; Pouille broke, whereupon Tsonga retired and trudged off court with a left hamstring (as has been confirmed) in tatters.

Tsonga was prudent to cut his losses when he did; there was no other way to tackle this no-win situation. Even if he had managed to snatch a Phyrric victory in the second set (or, most improbably, in a decider), he most definitely would’ve skipped the final. This week, Tsonga will undergo medical tests to reveal the size of the tear in his left hamstring, but in some respects the worse damage to his 2018 might well have been done by a decision he made in the aftermath of his retirement in Montpellier. Out of necessity, Tsonga withdrew from the ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament in Rotterdam, which forecloses any possibility of him defending the 500 points he earned by lifting the trophy there last year. Tsonga has also pulled out of the Open 13 in Marseille, where he would have been defending another 250 points as the current title holder the week beginning February 19th.

Besides his health, the most pressing issue on the rapidly-receding horizon of Tsonga’s career is the insecurity of his ranking. Although the 32-year-old has admitted that he has “reached a moment in my career where I need to make some choices about when I play,” missing both Rotterdam and Marseille is sure to send his ranking tobogganing—Tsonga will tumble out of the top 30 since he won’t come anywhere near to equalling his points haul from last February. Such a setback could deflate the former world No.5; the challenge of rebuilding a sliding ranking may not be all that attractive to a player who has already made over $20 million in career prize money and seen his window to win the biggest prizes in the sport shrink before his eyes. If his injury is as bad as it could be, the pessimist in me says that the beginning of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga’s last days are upon us.

An earlier version of this article was published stating that Tsonga has not yet withdrawn from the upcoming ATP 250 tournament in Marseille. It has since come to my attention that he in fact has, and is resultantly sure to drop out of the top 30. The article has been updated to reflect these facts.