Tsonga's sting hurting opponents
Sunday, 20 January, 2008
By Andrew Wu
He may not yet float like a butterfly but French sensation Jo-Wilfried Tsonga's sting has already seen the demise of two top-10 players at this year's Australian Open.
Tsonga still has a long way to go to become tennis' version of the great Muhammad Ali, with whom the Frenchman bears an uncanny resemblance, but he is fast emerging as the fairytale story of this year's tournament.
Just as Marcos Baghdatis and Fernando Gonzalez, finalists in 2006 and 2007 respectively, won the hearts and minds of the Melbourne fans with their breathtaking play and exuberant personality, Tsonga is doing likewise in 2008.
And he was also appreciative of the support from the Melbourne crowd.
"I try to take some strength, because it's just unbelievable to be there. And a lot of people would like to be there. And me, I'm there," he said.
"I can play with the public. I can make a lot of show. And that's just cool. I'm very happy to be on the court."
The 22-year-old, whose career has been plagued by shoulder and back injuries, advanced to his first grand slam quarter-final when he defeated world No.8 Richard Gasquet 6-2 6-7 (5-7) 7-6 (8-6) 6-3.
Not only does Tsonga possess a forehand to die for, he is refreshingly honest.
When asked at his post-match press conference what went through his mind after he lost the second set in a tie-breaker moments after failing to win it on his serve, Tsonga said in his broken English: "Oh shit, shit, what's wrong with me?"
"OK, stay on the court. OK, he played the second set like me, and maybe he's going to be tired, also. So we are equal and let's go for the third set."
It is that sort of fearless attitude which has helped Tsonga, who stole a set from eventual semi-finalist Andy Roddick in the first round of last year's tournament, slash his ranking from 345 at the end of 2005 to his current career-best of 38.
And it also helped him overcome the nerves which some developing players have when pitted against their country's No.1 ranked player.
"Was it more difficult? It's difficult to play a friend, and you have to separate everything," he explained.
"OK, we are friends but when we are on the court, it's different, and I need to do my best to beat him. And that's the difficulty."
Should Tsonga overcome Russian No.14 seed Mikhail Youzhny in the quarters then a potential date with world No.2 Rafael Nadal awaits him.
Beat him and the man who looks like Ali could be facing the Ali of tennis, Roger Federer.