Tsonga aiming to muscle in with the big boys down at SW19
By Alex Kay Last updated at 4:50 PM on 18th June 2009
At 6ft 2in, packed full of muscle and with a mighty serve, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga is just the type of player you would have expected to have made a mark at Wimbledon by now.
The world No 9 from France has all the attributes for a great fortnight at the All England Club but, until this year, he has not really been in a position to mount a sneaky challenge for the title.
Next week will only be 24-year-old Tsonga's second appearance at Wimbledon, as the 2008 Australian Open runner-up broke into the top of the game late on and was then ruled out of appearing at SW19 last year through injury.
Tsonga's only appearance at Wimbledon came in 2007 when, as a wildcard ranked 112 in the world, he rocketed his way through to the fourth round.
Gunning for glory: Powerhouse Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
What has happened since then is predictable to those who watched him as an outstanding junior. Beating Andy Murray on the way, Tsonga reached the Australian Open final a year later from under the radar, eventually losing to Novak Djokovic.
He has since gone on to win four tour titles and is excited about the first Wimbledon he'll playing as an established top 10 player.
'Yeah, I am excited. My first one was two years ago but this is my first as a top player,' he said. 'Two years ago I did well, I lost in the fourth round, so I know what to expect.
'For grass, you have to stay on your baseline more. It's not good if you go further back and you have to get into the net. I think it suits my game to be offensive, so it's natural.'
Tsonga has impressed on his return from injury this year and reached the last 16 at the French Open, going out to eventual semi-finalist Juan Martin Del Potro.
That was no mean achievement, seeing as he was only one of two Frenchmen to make the last 16 as the home players once again struggled in front of the demanding Parisian crowd.
But Tsonga think that complaints by players about the pressures of playing in front of your home crowd are nonsense, saying that he finds it easy to block out criticism.
'I think it's the same everywhere. You go on the court and you try to do your best – that's it,' he said. 'In France or anywhere else. The only person who can judge me is me, that's it.
'After a match, if I lose and I go stand in front of the mirror, I tell myself if I did a great job or not. When you lose it's tough because sometimes you lose when you play well.
'That's sport. If I lose and I played okay, that's no problem because I played well, I played my best tennis and the guy opposite me was better than me. Then sometimes I lose and I don't play well, I say '"okay, I'll work and do everything to do better next time".'
'Rafael Nadal's the champion but Roger Federer's won five times, he won the French this year and I think he's very confident. It's going to be tough to beat him this year. I think the French were happy to see Federer win the tournament in Paris because he lost three times in the final. Him winning was a good thing for everybody – for tennis, for the tournament, for history.'
And what of the British contender? Tsonga is certain that Murray has it in him to win and he should know, having played with him plenty of times on the junior circuit growing up.
Main man: Andy Murray triumphed at Queen's last week
'Andy's playing well everywhere but he's better on quick surfaces than on a clay court,' he added. 'I think he's really dangerous on grass. I played with him a lot on grass when we were younger and he was very, very good.
'The best way for me to beat the top guys is to have a very good day. When I go on court, I don't have specific tactics – I just want to play my best tennis. If I do, I can beat everybody. Like I said, I'm very attacking and I go for everything. If I send down three aces per game, it's difficult for the other guy. So it's all about me.'
What would be a successful tournament for him then?
'If I get to the semis, it's a good result for me. But if I get to the semis, I'll want to be in the final and to win it.'
Confident talk from Tsonga and the sort that will surely make him a Grand Slam champion eventually. This Wimbledon might come a bit soon for him but don't be surprised if he ruffles a few feathers.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga was talking at the Boodles Challenge at Stoke Park. For more information, go to www.theboodles.com