The French Open has not been won by a Frenchman in over three decades. Thirteenth seed and French hopeful Jo-Wilfried Tsonga is no stranger to big matches, having made a run to the semifinals in Paris last year. His experience and wins against top players proves he has what it takes to go all the way. All of France will be watching their countryman try to bring home the French Open trophy, and with their support, Tsonga is a man on a mission.
In 2008, Tsonga made an impressive run to the final of the Australian Open. On route, he defeated Britian’s Andy Murray, fellow French shot-maker Richard Gasquet, and then world No. 2 Rafael Nadal. In 2011, Tsonga displayed his mental toughness by staging a comeback from two sets down against Roger Federer at Wimbledon. The over three hour battle saw the Frenchman storm back with a 3-6, 6-7(3), 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 victory. The same year, he reached the final of the Barclay’s ATP World Tour Finals.
The last Frenchman to win Roland Garros was Yannick Noah in 1983 when he defeat Sweden’s Mats Wilander in straight sets. French Tennis Federation president Jean Gachassin commented in regards to a French player winning the tournament this year: “I keep thinking and dreaming.” With words like those, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga is a man with a lot of encouragement as he embarks on the mission to keep the French Open trophy at home.
During his 2008 run to the final of the Australian Open, Tsonga displayed unbelievable touch at the net with devastating drop shots. On clay, those drop shots could really be a factor if the Frenchman can channel his talent properly. There are other formidable Frenchmen in the draw including showman and 2014 Montpellier champion Gael Monfils, but none have the big match experience and success of Tsonga.
Last year’s run to the semifinals of the French Open saw Tsonga dispatch 2009 champion and seventeen-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer in straight sets. He also did not drop a set on route to his first semifinal appearance in Paris, and continues to show improvement on the surface. Despite never winning a title on clay, when focused, he has the tools to get the job done.
Predictions last year on his French Open semifinal match against Spaniard David Ferrer were optimistic but futile as Tsonga came in flat and out of rhythm. The La Mans native has admitted in the past to experiencing lapses in concentration, which have cost him. If he can maintain his preparation rituals, maintain a laser-like focus and hone his considerable talent, Tsonga could surprise and please fans around the world.
With the drought of French men hoisting the French Open trophy in recent decades, a local champion would be exciting for the sport. Of the roster of possible candidates, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga has the resume that shows he can do it. With huge wins on the biggest stages of the game under his belt, Tsonga has shown what he is capable of. With the entire country behind him at the French Open this year, Tsonga is a man on a mission.
Commentary by John Benjamin Wilson