Biography – Jo-Wilfried Tsonga

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga : An Inspiration to tennis

17th of April, 1985 may seem just a normal day to most of the world but it was the day when a future tennis great was born. Le Mans, is the birth place of the Jo-Wilfried Tsonga Petsonga. Tsonga is actually of mixed decent with a Congolese father (Didier) and a French mother (Evelyne) . Jo’s father actually moved to France during the 1970’s to fulfil his own dreams of becoming a handball great where he eventually met Evelyne and they married.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga has a younger brother (Enzo) who much like Jo has been inspired to play sports and is part of the French basketball program (junior), he also has a elder sister (Sasha) who is less involved with sporting ventures. Coming from a less prestigious background that most him and Gael Monfil’s developed a good friendship from a young age where they enjoyed mimicking all the tennis greats of the past.

As a junior Tsonga’s talent was undisputable, reaching a junior high ranking of number 2 and claiming the US Open title. Tsonga reached 3 other semi-finals of junior grand slam events. Marcus Baghdatis was a huge rival of Jo’s in the junior stage. It was clear by now that Jo-Wilfried was ready for the big stage and in 2004 decided to turn professional.

 

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga’s success as a junior was phenomenal.

2004, saw Jo-Wilfried acquire Eric Winogradsky as his head coach . JW also played his first tournament on the ATP tour, that being a futures’ tournament in Spain. He also played some challenger tournaments in Nottingham, England and Togliatti,Russia. Tsonga also achieved a great victory in the 2004 over Carlos Moya who at the time was 4th in the world.

However despite some early success, there were some seriously troubling times ahead. No matter how well you prepare, or how talented you are sometimes the best laid plans can go to waste (Of Mice and Men). It all started with a herniated disc in the winter of 2004, several doctors had advised him that he may never reach the same level of play again and if he did it would be almost miraculous. But in typical Jo-Wilfried fashion he was not deterred and even though he did manage to play a few tournaments another shoulder ailment did not help the cause at all. After that was properly fixed, yet another shoulder problem aroused, this was becoming tremendously frustrating. With outrageous patience Tsonga waited for these problems to disintegrate but was even more disturbed when he incurred a bad abdominal injury which would re-appear towards the end of 2006. Was he not destined for professional tennis? During the 2004- 2006 period Jo-Wilfried could only play 8 tournaments! He could develop no consistent form but challenged several top players even in his worsened tennis form. What would happen from here? Was his career over?

Ranked number 212 at the start of the 2007, he played against Andy Roddick in the first round of the Australian Open. Most people hadn’t heard of Jo-Wilfried at the time unless they followed his highly successful junior career. Roddick on the other hand was a household name , former world number 1 and winner of the US Open. This didn’t matter to Jo-Wilfried who pushed Roddick all the way. Even though it only went to four sets the first set featured the longest tie break in the history of the Australian Open that finally ended with Jo-Wilfried taking it 20-18. The next set also featured a tie break although not as lengthy with Roddick’s mammoth serve helping him clinch the set. Only recently coming back to the tour visibly affected his play and fitness, JW lost the next 2 sets but showed his sparkling talents, this was probably the first time the tennis world said “Hey, this guy’s got potential!”

He carried his new found confidence into the next few months where he dominated four challenger tournaments (Tallahassee, Mexico City, Lanzarote, and Surbiton). He also managed to qualify for the prestigious Queens event, with such great volleying and a huge yet reliable serve surely he could make an impact on the grass? He started well and in the second round met defending champion and number six seed Lleyton Hewitt. Tsonga was a big underdog, because Lleyton had a vast tour experience (former world number one) yet JW’s great grass court potential and talent he managed to take Hewitt apart in two straight sets. He then proceeded into the next round more fatigued and lost to Marin Cilic.

Due to his sparkling Queen’s club performance he was rightfully awarded a wildcard into the most prestigious tennis event of the year, Wimbledon. As a wild card appearance and 2007 being his first season on the ATP most tennis critics expect a first round lost. Tsonga had other ideas though, only to be stopped by a close friend and huge talent Richard Gasquet(12th seed) in the 4th round . The tennis world was now attentive, who was is Tsonga? His great performances in 2007 meant he was now ranked number 74 in the world. A ranking that most tennis players would be hugely excited about , Jo-Wilfried was happy his injuries were not returning but he wasn’t completely happy with his progress with his talent he knew he could break the top 20 at the very least. He repeated a great Wimbledon debut with a great US Open one. He reached the third round only to be defeated by the number two seed, Rafael Nadal in third Round

The 2007 Grand Prix de Lyon was again a fantastic tournament for Jo-Wilfried. He not only avenged his loss against Richard Gasquet but reached the fourth round only to lose against another Frenchman Sebastian Grosjean. (They’re simply too many classy French players in the top tier of the men’s game today). So if you can’t beat them, join them right? Jo-Wilfried paired up with Sebastian Grosjean to claim his first doubles title, with a great serve and natural volleying Jo could be as great a doubles player as singles.

2007 was just what Jo-Wilfried needed, it was the settling year. He got into a routine, played some big tournaments and showed that he has the potential to be a huge threat on tour. Still not happy with 2007, Jo-Wilfried took it upon himself to train very hard over the small break that tennis players have (over Christmas – called the Off-Season) whilst other top players were indulging Jo was training, hard ….very hard.

The year started in Australia, where Tsonga’s first tournament Adelaide went well. He reached the semi finals defeating Hanescu, Gulbis, Hewitt (Top Seed). He also paired up with Grosjean in the doubles but there pairing was less successfully as it has been previously losing in the first round, perhaps a time for change of partners?

In Sydney, Tsonga paired up with compatriot and close friend Richard Gasquet, both highly talented they managed to oust the top seeds the Bryan Brothers and take the title. It was a huge upset and ever since then they have been performing well in doubles.

The Australian Open had been a tournament Jo-Wilfried Tsonga had only had success with in the juniors, it was a hard court relatively slow but still suited towards Jo-Wilfried’s style of play ;this was to become evident in the 2008.

He had been drawn against the top British player and gargantuan talent, Andy Murray. It would have been difficult to look past this match. Tsonga played aggressively ,displaying brilliant serving coupled with an acute touch at the net and sizzling groundstrokes, he matched Murray stroke for stroke and took it decisively in 4 sets, the tennis world was shocked ;many of them predicted this to be Murray’s first Slam.

Sam Warburg was an easier second round , Tsonga won in straight sets. He did so again against Guillermo Garcia Lopez and was then drawn against rival, friend and doubles partner Richard Gasquet in the fourth round. The 4th round of the 2007 Wimbledon Championship would not be repeated; Jo-Wilfried gaining a straight set victory over Gasquet .Both were not ecstatic playing each other but played to the best of their abilities and acted professionally.

In the Quarter finals Tsonga would be playing another seed, Mikhail Youzhny of Russia. Having started the year brightly most thought Tsonga’s form wouldn’t be able to carry him through against this top ten player. He did so in straight sets. He was through to his first Grand Slam semi-final against the world number two and number two seed Rafael Nadal.

Nadal had dominated him in there last meeting, in the US Open of 2007. The tennis world heavily favoured Nadal without taking into consideration the talent, finesse and movement of Jo. I have to say this is the best match I’ve had the honour of seeing Jo-Wilfried play, his serving was unbelievable. Nadal would hit a passing shot that most of the elite tennis players in the world would have been left in awe by; the shots as they whizzed by. Not JW, he anticipated fiercely and hit some drop volleys that even Navratilova, Graph, and Edberg would have been delighted with. His forehand was unstoppable even on the slow blue courts of Plexicushion. Nadal was destroyed over three sets and Jo-Wilfried not broken once during the match. He set up a clash with the Serbian number one Novak Djokovic who was simply full of confidence after beating world number one Roger Federer.

The final was highly anticipated and it really was a completely unpredictable affair and although Tsonga broke at the end of the first set to take it with two incredible winners , he couldn’t consistently produce the high quality tennis that had seen him through to the final. Djokovic came out the victor over 4 sets. Even though he failed to convert his first opportunity at a Grand Slam, JW proved his worldly potential and sent a message to the dominant top 3, he’s come to win, and he’s coming to the pinnacle of the game.

After almost suffering a career ruining injury to come back shows real character and determination, but to come back the way Jo-Wilfried has proves that Tsonga has an innate quality to believe “Nothing is Impossible”. This ‘biography’ is not complete; Jo still has so many great things to achieve in and out of the tennis world.

Written by Mike Coombe