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Archive for the ‘Jo Wilfred Tsonga’ Category

Head-to-head: first meeting

This is the Gasquet’s and Tsonga’s first tour meeting. Although they are both French and very close in age, they have never played each other as professionals. However, they did meet three times on the ITF Junior Circuit with Gasquet winning each time.

Gasquet takes on Tsonga in the fifth all French match-up at Wimbledon this year. The most all-French match-ups here in the Open Era previously was three, those being in 2004. France was the most represented nation in the 2007 men’s draw: 15 French players started here.

Tsonga is the third Frenchmen that Gasquet has played at 2007 Wimbledon. With his wins over Nicolas Mahut and Edouard Roger-Vasselin in the second and third rounds here, Gasquet has improved his Grand Slam record against countrymen to 5-0. He had never played a Frenchman at Wimbledon before this year. Gasquet has a 19-9 career record against Frenchmen.

Today marks Tsonga’s first tour-level meeting with a Frenchman.

Gasquet and Tsonga are two of four men in the top half of the draw to have reached the round of 16 without dropping a set. The others are Roger Federer and Andy Roddick.

Gasquet defeated qualifier Bohdan Ulihrach 63 64 64 in the opening round, qualifier Nicolas Mahut 64 63 64 in the second round and qualifier Edouard Roger-Vasselin 63 64 62 in the third round. This was the first time that Gasquet had faced three qualifiers in a row at any tournament.

Gasquet is making his fourth consecutive appearance at Wimbledon. Last year, he lost in the first round to eventual champion Roger Federer 63 62 62.

Gasquet is bidding to reach his first Grand Slam quarterfinal. He previously reached the round of 16 at Wimbledon in 2005, losing to David Nalbandian 64 76 60. He also reached the round of 16 at the 2005 and 2006 US Open, and the 2007 Australian Open.

Gasquet has played two previous matches against wild cards at Grand Slam events and has a 2-0 record. He defeated Phillip Simmonds 61 63 61 in the first round at the 2006 US Open and Nicolas Mahut 63 62 62 in the first round at 2007 Roland Garros.

Gasquet played the grass court warm-up events this year at Halle and Nottingham. He lost in the first round at Halle to Aisam Qureshi 76 64, and reached the quarterfinals at Nottingham. At Nottingham, Gasquet was bidding to create tournament history by winning the title for three consecutive years, but persistent rain forced his quarterfinal match against Arnaud Clement to be moved to indoor hard court – he lost 64 63.

Gasquet’s best result on any surface to date this year was finishing runner-up at Estoril on clay, falling to Novak Djokovic 76 06 61. He was also a semifinalist at Sydney and a quarterfinalist at Adelaide, Marseille and AMS Monte Carlo.

Gasquet began the Grand Slam year with a round of 16 finish at the Australian Open, defeating compatriot Gael Monfils 60 46 75 63 in the third round before losing to Tommy Robredo 64 62 36 64.

Gasquet has won four titles in his career. As well as winning at Nottingham in 2005 and 2006, he was victorious on clay at Gstaad in 2006 and on indoor carpet at Lyon in the same year.

Tsonga has reached the round of 16 on his Wimbledon debut. He defeated countryman Julien Benneteau 76 75 64 in the first round, Nicolas Lapentti 64 62 63 in the second round and Feliciano Lopez 63 76 63 in the third round.

Tsonga’s three victories here are his first at a major. He lost in the first round to Andy Roddick at both 2005 Roland Garros (63 62 64) and the 2007 Australian Open (67 76 63 63). The first-set tiebreak that Tsonga and Roddick played at this year’s Australian Open stretched to 20-18, setting a new record for the longest-known tie break at the Australian Open and equalling the record for the longest-known tiebreak at any tournament.

Tsonga is playing only his third Grand Slam event and has always played as a wild card.

Tsonga is now bidding to become just the third wild card to reach the quarterfinals at Wimbledon. The two men to have done this so far are Pat Cash in 1986 and Goran Ivanisevic in 2001, Ivanisevic going on to win the title. (Wild cards were introduced to Wimbledon in 1997.)

Tsonga is looking to become the first debutant to reach the Wimbledon quarterfinals since Florian Mayer in 2004, Mayer losing in the quarterfinals to Lleyton Hewitt 64 62 46 76.

Tsonga attempted to qualify for 2003 and 2004 Roland Garros and the 2004 US Open, but fell in the second qualifying round each time.

Tsonga has won three matches at tour level for the first time. He won two successive tour-level matches for the first time at Queen’s last month as a qualifier, defeating Kristian Pless and defending champion Lleyton Hewitt in the first two rounds before falling to Marin Cilic 46 63 62.

Prior to Queen’s, Tsonga won the Surbiton Challenger on grass, defeating Ivo Karlovic 63 76 in the final. This was Tsonga’s eighth challenger title and his second such title on grass, having won the Nottingham challenger in 2004.

From the Surbiton Challenger through the third round here, Tsonga has won 13 of his 14 matches on grass this year (including qualifying at Queen’s).

Tsonga reached the semifinals of the boys’ singles at 2003 Wimbledon (l. eventual champion Florin Mergea 64 67 64). He finished No. 2 on the ITF Junior World rankings behind Marcos Baghdatis in 2003, having won the US Open boys’ singles title that year.

Since moving to the men’s tour, Tsonga has suffered several injuries. He didn’t play between November 2004 and March 2005 due to a herniated disc. He then contested just three tournaments between July 2005 and February 2006, retiring in one and conceding a walkover in another, due to shoulder, back and abdominal injuries. As a result of this inactivity, his ranking dropped from No. 133 on 23 May 2005 to No. 404 on 3 April 2006. Since then his ranking has risen to a career-high of No. 110.

As a result of reaching the round of 16 here, Tsonga is projected to break into the Top 100 when the new rankings are published on 9 July 2007.

Since returning to the circuit in February 2006, Tsonga has won five Challenger titles and four Futures titles.

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While Andy Murray makes headline news without even playing at Wimbledon, Novak Djokovic wins new fans with every match he plays (especially those of a female persuasion) and Richard Gasquet continues to amaze with his sublime talents and frustrate with his lack of consistency, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga is the forgotten man of the new generation.

The tall 22-year-old Frenchman – who is the spitting image of a young Muhammad Ali – arrived on the professional scene with a bang, making his breakthrough alongside Gael Monfils at the Masters Series event in Paris in 2004. Given wild cards into the qualifying competition, both men earned their place in the main draw and both won a round, Tsonga beating Mario Ancic. With that win coming on the back of a victory over Carlos Moya at the Beijing tournament a couple of moths before, it was no wonder that France sat up and took notice – here were two young stars of the future.

But while Monfils built on that start and worked his way up the world pecking order, breaking into the top 30 last year, no more was heard of Tsonga. Pushed out of the spotlight in his home country by Monfils and Gasquet and completely overtaken by Murray, Djokovic, Marcos Baghdatis and Tomas Berdych, no one knew or cared where he was.

He was, in fact, at the doctors, asking for attention to a series of injuries that robbed him of the first three years of his career. It all began with a herniated disc in his back and was followed up with shoulder and knee problems. When the medics finally cleared him to get back to work, Tsonga was still restricted to playing just eight tournaments a year in 2005 and 2006. When he was able to play, he tended to win, but he was not able to play enough to break out of the challenger circuit.

As it turned out, those two years were the making of Tsonga. As a junior, he was regarded as a man of immense talent but very little brain. He had the game to get to the top but appeared to have low fighting spirit . In 2003, he was one match away from finishing the year as the junior world champion but when the day of the match came he was well beaten and could not bear to watch as Baghdatis overtook him in the rankings and was lauded as the great hope of the future. It was the sort of collapse Tsonga could not imagine happening now.

Focused, dedicated and determined, Tsonga knows that he has been given a second chance and he refuses to waste it. He also knows that he is good – and gradually the rest of the boys in the locker room are beginning to realise it, too.

At the start of this year, he got a wild card in the Australian Open as part of a reciprocal arrangement between the French and Australian tennis federations. Although he did not win his opening match against Andy Roddick, he gave the American a fright. Here was a man who could serve as hard as Roddick, who could hit the ball as hard as Roddick and who believed that he had as much right to be in the second round as Roddick. Suddenly the world began to remember this Tsonga.

Part of the maturing process is knowing your own limitations and where the younger, more immature Tsonga would have jumped at the chance to play at his home grand slam, Tsonga turned down the wild card offered to him this year by the French Tennis Federation. He had just won four challenger titles in five attempts and he was tired. After all his injury problems, he was not sure that his body could withstand best of five set matches on clay at Roland Garros, so he politely refused.

Instead, he came to Britain, won the Surbiton challenger while, at the same time, qualifying for Queen’s and now has arrived in a blaze of glory at Wimbledon.

Now he plays Gasquet for a place in the quarter finals. In fact, Tsonga can barely wait for the match to start. After every win, he points to an imaginary number on his back, as if he were wearing a football shirt. It is to show everyone that he is still part of the team, he is still part of the new generation of potential world beaters.

(via scotsman, photo: getty images)

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