remember this name – jo-wilfried tsonga

Posted on January 24, 2008

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It has been a while since I actually felt joy while watching tennis.

The emotions that come to mind are more like excitement and admiration, or even boredom at times.

But joy was a new dimension that entered my tennis lexicon the other night I watched Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga take apart his compatriot Richard Gasquet in the Australian Open.

What a revelation Tsonga, the son of a chemistry teacher who played international handball for Congo, is.

I must admit that I have never seen this young man in action and I blame myself completely for my ignorance and having missed out.

Tsonga is an incredibly refreshing change from the more famous players.

This is a guy who plays tennis the way it ought to be played – with a carefree, easy confidence and sharp intelligence.

Despite playing the biggest games of his short career, Tsonga is frighteningly composed and relaxed on court. But what makes him such a pleasure to watch, above all else, is that he looks like he is actually having a ball out there.

No power strokes from the baseline from Tsonga either. His game is the fluid serve and volley style that has been sorely missing in tennis for the longest time and there is no better player to revive that classic style of play.

This talented Frenchman is a thinking player – it’s all about clever angles and switching things around, a great combination that befuddles and throws his opponents off balance while sending them scrambling all over the court to retrieve his ridiculously diverse range of shots.

His fearlessness and deft work at the net is nothing short of amazing. I have lost count of the number of times he approached the net and demoralized opponents with his exquisite drop-shots. The best they could do was shoot him murderous looks. Of course, it also helps that Tsonga has a blistering forehand and booming serves to round up his game. And for such a big guy (6-2, 200 pounds), his athleticism and speed is astounding.

It is amazing that just two years ago, this 22-year old was suffering from a myriad of injuries, from a herniated disc in his back, to shoulder and abdominal problems. This Australian Open is only his fifth major and Tsonga has already penetrated the rarefied air of the semi-finals, blowing past other seeded players like Andy Murray and Mikhail Youzny. Consider this – tennis marvel Roger Federer only got to the semi-finals of a Grand Slam (in Wimbledon) after 17 outings.

Like Federer, Tsonga makes things look easy. But unlike Federer, Tsonga has a more free-wheeling and effervescent style of play that is irresistibly infectious. Perhaps the joy of recovering from his injuries and finally being able to play at this top-level again is the source of this exuberance. And this is no doubt spreading to the crowds who watch him and cheer him on delightedly, aware that they are watching someone quite extraordinary.

Tsonga is playing Nadal in the semi-finals and could possibly continue on his giant-slaying run and cause a major upset in Melbourne on the level that Janko Tipsarevic couldn’t convert against Federer in the third round. But even if Tsonga’s Australian journey ends at Nadal’s hands, he is the new tennis star to watch.

Catch the infection.

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