By Julien Pretot
MONTE CARLO (Reuters) - A fired up Jo-Wilfried Tsonga did not let an animated verbal exchange with the umpire get in the way of a rousing 7-6 7-5 win over Nicolas Almagro in the second round of the Monte Carlo Masters on Tuesday.
With the May 23-June 6 French Open looming, the local favorite was his usual buoyant self for more than two hours as he overcame a misfiring first serve to knock out Almagro.
Tsonga, an Australian Open finalist in 2008, gave a thrilled crowd the thumbs up as he twirled around the court after shaking his opponent's hand.
"With all these Spaniards in my part of the draw, I knew it would be complicated from the start," Tsonga told a reporter as the claycourt behind him was being watered down for Richard Gasquet's match against Czech Tomas Berdych.
Tsonga, who will turn 25 on Saturday, will next face either former French Open champion Juan Carlos Ferrero or German Benjamin Becker.
Tsonga was put on the back foot early on, saving seven break points in his first two service games.
In the fourth game, he looked particularly upset after a couple of calls went against him and he quizzed umpire Carlos Bernardes loudly with the full backing of the roaring fans.
Bernardes refused to back down and within seconds an equally frustrated Almagro was also questioning the umpire after he felt he had been on the receiving end of a wrong line call.
The fifth seed thought he had one foot in the third round when he broke for 5-3 lead in the second set but Almagro, with the help of a net cord, broke back before leveling for 5-5.
That proved to be Almagro's last hurrah as Tsonga won the remaining eight points, wrapping it up when his opponent sent a forehand just wide.
"Tsonga has very good serve, very good forehand. With this he can win matches on all surfaces," said Almagro.
Almagro's fellow Spaniard Fernando Verdasco had a more enjoyable outing on Tuesday and made quite an impression on a clueless Julien Benneteau, who surrendered 6-2 6-1.
"I knew I would be the bull on the court and he would play around with me," summed up a despondent Benneteau.
"I would have liked to have caused him more problems but I didn't succeed. He was too tough for me today."
Gasquet followed Tsonga on to the main stage but barely allowed the court to get dry as he suffered an embarrassing 6-2 6-0 defeat by Berdych, a finalist at the Miami Masters earlier this month.
Gasquet appeared resigned to his fate for the duration of his 56-minute drubbing as he spent mostly of it looking down at his clay-covered shoes.
Croatian fourth seed Marin Cilic survived chilly weather and a bold challenge from Russian Igor Andreev to start his campaign with a 6-7 6-1 6-4 win.
Cilic fell behind after losing the first-set tiebreak 7-4 before finding better angles to unsettle Andreev on a windswept center court.
"The conditions were tough, the balls were heavy," said Cilic, whose first serve was not as efficient as usual.
Although Andreev only managed to win one game in the 56-minute second set, he proved a tough nut to crack, going a break up twice in the decider.
Cilic first broke back to love for 3-3 and leveled to make it 4-4 with a jaw-dropping crosscourt forehand winner.
He wrapped it up on Andreev's serve when the Russian's forehand hit the top of the net and bounced out.
(Editing by Pritha Sarkar; To query or comment on this story email email@example.com)