Doha: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who reached the Australian Open final four years ago, gave himself a great build-up to this year's opening Grand Slam by capturing the eighth title of his career at the Qatar Open on Saturday.
The world number five from France beat his 16th ranked compatriot Gael Monfils 7-5, 6-3 in a final with great shots and misses, delights and unexpected irritations, and an intriguing outcome when it seemed at one stage there might not be one at all.
In the process Tsonga showed again that he has the armoury to achieve his ambition of breaking into the big four, and did so in a contest between the two most exciting black male players since Yannick Noah retired a decade and a half ago.
"I tried to be more aggressive and be very competitive because against Roger (Federer), Rafa (Nadal) or Novak (Djokovic) that's what you have to do," Tsonga said.
"You have to be aggressive. I tried to do that this week and it worked."
However the on-off nature of the first set suggested Tsonga might not get the chance.
A sea fog swirled over the court, and although visibility was more than adequate the surface became slippery and uncertain.
"It was difficult. The surface was very slippery especially on the 'Qatar' sign painted on the court," added the 26-year-old Tsonga. "It was dangerous but they did enough to make it OK."
After 15 minutes it was decided to start, but only eight minutes later, by which time Monfils had broken serve and then indicated his insecurity underfoot, they decided to stop again.
Nothing appeared to have changed in the conditions, nor had it during the 36 minutes delay, except that there had been mopping and drying operations, especially to large logos not far behind the baselines.
For a while Monfils had the advantage - better balanced and faster in movement, and more confident after his early lead. But it evaporated from the moment he tried to close out the set at 5-4.
Then Monfils delivered one uncertain service game, which Tsonga concluded with an approach and a spectacular jumping smash, and at 5-6, crucially, he delivered another.
Two missed volleys and two moderate second serves which Tsonga punished saw Monfils drop the game to love, and the set with it after three-quarters of an hour of actual play.
"It's always tough to play against Jo because he has a powerful game and the kind of game which (makes it) tough to manipulate him from the baseline," Monfils had said before the match.
"It's always tougher like this in the final against a friend."
One wondered whether his mind had been affected in this way during those important moments, and also when Tsonga took two heavy tumbles in the second set.
Monfils’ emotions seems as involved with this as anything else, although he did also bounce his racquet with passionate anger at one backhand driving error early in the second set.
Tsonga was more serene, and became more sure of himself as the match went on, making the decisive breakthrough at 4-2 with some good returning and solid driving.
He consolidated that without alarms, and performed his familiar dynamic revolving war dance when he closed it out.
It celebrated becoming the first French winner of the title since Nicolas Escude eight years ago, and signalled him as a likely threat for 2012, even though he never had the chance to meet Federer here.
Tsonga was given a walk-over into the final by Federer, who was concerned to protect an ailing back for the Australian Open, starting in nine days time.
Federer remained in Doha to meet tournament off-court commitments and also to watch the final.
Monfils, who smilingly said that Tsonga had been "a bit lucky because he had a day off, whereas it was a bit harder for me," had come through by scoring only his second win in 10 attempts against Nadal, the French Open champion.