Tsonga, as a tasting of pending business

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga at Roland Garros on May 24, 2022 (Christophe ARCHAMBAULT / AFP)

Long considered Yannick Noah’s heir, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga has finally left his rackets after a last game at Roland-Garros, at the age of 37, at the end of a career full of blows and repeat injuries. .

His record is one of the richest in French tennis: 18 titles, including two Masters 1000, a Davis Cup with the New Musketeers (Monfils, Gasquet, Simon) and prestigious victories against the greatest.

He is one of the few who has withstood the three dominant circuit monsters of his time, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, all three of whom he defeated in the Grand Slam and when they were No. 1 in the world.

But unlike Noah, he never managed to win the Grand Slam title, the brand of the greatest. The lack of the “Big 3” (or even the “Big 4” with Murray), a certain lack of endurance that prevented him from chaining the feats and a game that relied too much on his first serve ball and his great straight shot. After his final at the Australian Open in 2008, he never made it past the semi-finals.

The joy of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, after winning the Paris 1000 Masters, defeated the Argentine David Nalbandian in the final, 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, on November 2, 2008.
The joy of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, after winning the Paris 1000 Masters, defeating the Argentine David Nalbandian in the final, 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, on November 2, 2008 (FRANCK FIFE / AFP / Archives)

It all started in Melbourne where this unknown 22-year-old turned everything around to reach the final of the Australian Open.

“I was not in my world. I went from the guy who is number 300 in the world, who would almost be given a small piece of bread to eat, to the guy who is in front of 15,000 people calling his name! ” years later the Frenchman, compared by the Australian press to the boxer Mohammed Ali for his gestures, his way of cheering and a certain physical resemblance.

However, the little Frenchy, the son of a former handball player of Congolese origin and a teaching mother, impressed by eliminating Andy Murray (9th) but especially Rafael Nadal, number 2 in the world and then triple winner of Roland- Garros, he swept away. three sets in an anthology semifinal.

Serbia's Novak Djokovic, winner of the Australian Open, sits alongside Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga after his 4-6 victory in the final.  6-4.  6-3.  7-6, 27 January 2008 in Melbourne
Serbia’s Novak Djokovic, winner of the Australian Open, sits alongside Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga after his 4-6 victory in the final. 6-4. 6-3. 7-6, 27 January 2008 in Melbourne (TORSTEN BLACKWOOD / AFP / Archives)

Only Novak Djokovic stops him. But what does this latest loss matter: French tennis has its new hero!

Armed with his devastating and direct service, Tsonga won his first title in Bangkok, then his first Masters 1000 in Bercy. At the end of 2008, he was 6th in the world.

Colos with clay feet

But the shadow of the wounds hides. That spring, the colossus (1.88 m, 91 kg) underwent knee surgery and had to stay away from the courts for a few months.

Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, injured in the left knee, receives treatment from a physiotherapist, before giving up at the beginning of the 3rd set against the Serbian Novak Djokovic, in the quarterfinals of the US Open , September 6, 2016 in New York City.
Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, injured in the left knee, receives treatment from a physiotherapist, before giving up at the beginning of the 3rd set against the Serbian Novak Djokovic, in the quarterfinals of the US Open , September 6, 2016 in New York City. (EDUARDO MUNOZ ALVAREZ / AFP / Archives)

A scenario that will haunt him throughout his career. A career he had almost never started, due to multiple physical problems from his youth.

In 2010, an abdominal tear deprived him of his Roland Garros and a painful knee from the Davis Cup final lost in Serbia. Then, patellar tendon injuries (2013), forearm (2015), adductor muscles (2016) or hamstrings (2018). Even in the last single of his career, against the Norwegian Casper Ruud, he was hampered by shoulder pain.

“Inch Dance”

Every time Tsonga comes back. In 2011 he was a semi-finalist at Wimbledon, following a spectacular quarter-final win over Federer. Then there is a final at Bercy and the Masters.

The following year, it was the return of the “thumb dance” with which he celebrated his victories: he rose to the quarterfinals of Roland-Garros, becoming the first Frenchman of the Open era to achieve this level in the four “Major”. He then reached the last four at Wimbledon and finished 5th in the world, his best ranking. In total, Tsonga spent 260 weeks in the Top 10.

The joy of the Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, after his victory against the Swiss Roger Federer in the quarterfinals of the Roland-Garros tournament, June 4, 2013
The joy of the Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, after his victory against the Swiss Roger Federer in the quarterfinals of the Roland-Garros tournament, June 4, 2013 (MARTIN BUREAU / AFP / Archives)

His great sorrow will no doubt continue to be the semifinals lost at Roland-Garros 2013. Thirty years after Noah, history comes to him. After dominating Federer, then 3rd in the world, in the quarterfinals, David Ferrer seems within reach. But, paralyzed by the bets, Tsonga misses his big meeting. After the game, “I wanted to break everything, mutilate myself,” he said.

Thanks to his spectacular game – “I play, good or not, I moan, I shout, I shout for joy. My tennis is life,” he said – Tsonga was with Gaël Monfils one of the beloved tricolor fans.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga with his wife and one of his children at Roland Garros on May 24, 2022
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga with his wife and one of his children in Roland-Garros on May 24, 2022 (Christophe ARCHAMBAULT / AFP)

“In France, the public has always been extremely kind to me (…) It’s a very powerful source of motivation. T-shirt.”

A founding member of the All In Tennis Academy, a new French training facility, Tsonga, married and the father of two children, now wants to “help French tennis.”

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