Shanghai: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga was at his athletic best on Saturday as he put Rafael Nadal's comeback on ice and reached his first Shanghai Masters final with a thrilling 6-4, 0-6, 7-5 victory.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga celebrates his semi-final win over Rafael Nadal in Shanghai on Saturday. Pic:AP/PTI
The mercurial Frenchman recovered from an embarrassing 6-0 'bagel' in the second set to take charge of a thrilling decider, highlighted by his diving volley to bring up match point.
The frustrated Nadal then misread a backhand to give Tsonga the win, as the Spaniard narrowly failed to reach his second final in seven days after last week's runner-up finish in Beijing.
"You know it's going to be difficult to stay on your feet. You just go. You don't think about anything at this moment," Tsonga, 30, said of his dive in the final game. "Just try to catch the ball. That's what I did. It works. Yeah, I'm really pleased I did that."
While Tsonga clinched one of his biggest wins this year in style, Nadal also took encouragement from reaching the semis as he continues his recovery from a disappointing season.
"I was there until the end. Was not (my) day to win. I just need to adjust a little bit a few more things. But in general I have to be happy," Nadal said. "I believe there is no doubt that the confidence is higher now than a couple of months ago."
At a packed Qi Zhong Stadium, Nadal slipped and fell in the very first game to hand Tsonga break points, and he misfired a routine smash in the fifth to give the Frenchman another opportunity.
The Spaniard's serve had only been broken once all week but Tsonga finally pierced his armour when he sent back a towering Nadal forehand with interest for a smoking backhand winner.
Tsonga buried a huge crosscourt forehand as he fended off break points in the eighth game, and he didn't hang around in his next service game which he won to love to take a one-set lead.
But Tsonga was all at sea in the second set and with double-faults at critical moments, Nadal broke three times to 'bagel' the Frenchman 6-0 and level the match.
Tsonga regathered himself for a tight deciding set and although he was unable to convert three break points in the third game, he finally broke for 6-5
when Nadal fired into the net.