Tsonga’s win over Federer barely registers in France
Bad timing: Frenchman thrashes Federer on day France celebrates release of captured TV journalists
You've got to feel for Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. He pulls off probably the biggest victory of his career and it's all but passed France by. Why? Because unfortunately for the 26-year-old Frenchman he defeated Roger Federer in the quarter-final of Wimbledon on the same day that two French television journalists, Herve Ghesquiere and Stephane Taponier, were released after 18 months captivity in Afghanistan.
Not only that, but what with the government reshuffle following finance minister Christine Lagarde's departure to the IMF and the rumours of a scandal surrounding Prince Albert of Monaco's wedding on Saturday, tennis triumphs are small fry right now in France.
Wednesday's prime time half-hour news show on TF1 – France's answer to BBC1 – was extended by 20 minutes to cover the release of the two hostages and cover it they did, devoting nearly two-thirds of the programme to the pair's liberation. Lagarde got a few minutes, as did Prince Albert, but poor old Jo barely got a look in.
A couple of the many wondrous shots he produced to beat the six-times Wimbledon champion were shown, but there was no post-match interview and no pundit predicting whether Tsonga might become the first Frenchman to win the men's singles titles since Yvon Petra in 1946 (who incidentally was the last man to wear long trousers in a Wimbledon final) and the first Frenchman to win any Grand Slam title since Yannick Noah's triumph at the 1983 French Open.
The closest Tsonga has come to winning a Grand Slam was his appearance in the 2008 Australian Open when he lost in four sets to Novak Djokovic, which before yesterday was the only occasion he's reached a Grand Slam semi.
Yet Tsonga on his day is as good as Rafael Nadal, as he proved in Australia three years ago when he slaughtered the Spaniard in the semi-final 6-3, 6-2, 6-3. His win at Wimbledon yesterday was even more impressive, however, because he showed not just skill but steel, coming back from two sets down to win against one of the greatest ever grass court players.
It was the first time in 179 Grand Slam matches that the 29-year-old Swiss had let slip a two-set lead out of his grasp, though afterwards he dismissed suggestions that it was further evidence of his slow decline. "No, I don't think so. It wasn't a shocker, a second-round loss in straight sets or some stupid match. It was a great match, I think, from both sides."
The question now is can Tsonga scale such heights again when he faces Novak Djokovic in Friday's semi-final or will he go the same way as compatriot Marion Bartoli in the women's tournament? She caused a sensation on Monday by beating Serena Williams only to subside in the quarter-final against the unseeded German wildcard Sabine Lisicki.
One of the problems for Tsonga in the past - and a reason why at the age of 26 he's only playing in his 16th Grand Slam tournament - is that his sheer size makes him susceptible to injuries. He's been described as resembling a young Mohammad Ali, both facially and physically, and at 6ft 2in and 15 stone there are few players on the circuit who measure up to him. There are also few who've suffered so many injuries, from herniated disc to abdominal problems to shoulder issues requiring surgery.
However, he's been avoiding injuries recently, which has enabled him to gain in self-belief and confidence, both of which he said helped him in his victory over Federer. "I think I've improved a lot mentally. I'm stronger because I change lot of things in my tennis and now I try to stay focused all the time and just breathe and stay quiet."
A smile is never far from Tsonga's face and the way in which he celebrated his victory over Federer, performing his increasingly well-known victory dance across the court, endeared him further to the Wimbledon crowd. Andy Murray might still be the favourite for the Union Flag brigade, but for those who like their tennis served with joie de vivre, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga is the man. ·
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