It’s France v Croatia in Metz on Sunday afternoon as Ivan Ljubicic and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga battle it out for what will be a first title of the season for both men.

Week So Far 

For Tsonga, a comfortable win over Rodrigues was followed by a poor start against compatriot Nicolas Mahut. TsongaHowever, after dropping the first set, Tsonga powered on to win the next two comfortably and book himself a place in the semi-finals against Dolgopolov. Ukrainian, Dolgopolov can be a tricky customer and has been on top of his game in recent months, but Tsonga came through in straight sets to ensure his spot in Sunday’s final, and with the Paris Masters and a possible Tour Finals event just around the corner, Tsonga will be going all out for this one. 

32-year-old Ivan Ljubicic came into this event as the No.4 seed and hasn’t had the toughest path through. Wins over Renavand, Sijsling, and Muller, without the loss of a set, have ensured the Croat his place in the final, but there’s a huge step-up in class from the likes of those players , to the World No.10 and top seed for the event, Tsonga. 

Head-To-Head

The pair have met on only five occasions previously and it’s the veteran, Ljubicic who holds a slender 3-2 advantage. Two of Ljubicic’s three wins did however come on clay courts and Tsonga actually holds a 2-1 lead on hard courts. The pair have met previously at an indoor event in Rotterdam, earlier this year, and Tsonga won out in straight sets, needing a tie-break to clinch it in the second. 

History 

A Frenchman has won this event in each of the last two years. Gael Monfils triumphed in 2009, whilst it was Giles Simon who went all the way in 2010. Jo-Wilfired Tsonga would love to become the third home player to win the event in as many years and he knows the points will move him very close to Gael Monfils as he bids to end the year as the French No.1 and possibly snatch a place in the London Finals. 

Ivan Ljubicic loves playing on the indoor courts and has won six titles indoors, including his win here in Metz back in 2005. Couple that with nine losing finals indoor over his career and it’s easy to see how the Croat has found himself in another final here. 

Tsonga himself has recorded three of his five titles on indoor hard courts, including the Paris Masters back in 2008 and he was a beaten finalist this year at the Rotterdam indoor event. 

Verdict

It’s a tough call. Tsonga won’t be scared by the big serving Croat. In addition to beating him indoors already in 2011, Tsonga is coming into this final with some solid form behind him. A couple of huge wins over Roger Federer in the summer combined with a decent run and a victory over current US No.1, Mardy Fish at the US Open, have left the 26-year-old Frenchman high on confidence. As a big Ambassador for this event, he’d love to win it and as mentioned, it’ll do his points tally no harm at all as we move into a crucial part of the year.

The problem with Ivan Ljubicic is you just never can tell when he is going to put in the kind of performance that saw him reach a career high of No.3 in the World.

Ljubicic’s last tournament win cam in the Masters 1000 event in Indian Wells in 2010. He came in to that event as a 150/1 outsider in the tennis odds but went on to put in some unbelievable performances, knocking out Djokovic and Nadal along the way, before seeing off Roddick in the final. Even at 32, when he’s hot and his serve is working, he can still be almost untouchable. 

Having not beaten any really big names so far this week, it’s difficult to say if Ljubicic is on one of his hot streaks and the real consistency across 2011 has come from Tsonga. With home backing and plenty to play for, I expect Tsonga to see off the Croat in straight sets and add a first title of the year to some impressive individual victories. 

Tips and free picks

Jo-Wilfired Tsonga to win the match – 1/3 – Victor Chandler

Tsong to win 2-0 – 10/11 – Paddy Power

First set score 7-6 (Tsonga)  - 9/2 – William Hill