Jo-Willie Tsonga is again making a splash in front of the partisan crowds in Paris. Tsonga has reached the semifinals of the French Open for the second time in three years. The hulking Frenchman’s last appearance in the semis of a major was at Roland Garros in 2013.
After defeating 4-seed Tomas Berdych in the fourth round and 5-seed Kei Nishikori in the quarterfinals of the 2015 French Open, Tsonga’s profile is finally back where many tennis analysts thought it would be. The hubbub surrounding the 30-year old journeyman is nearly as strong as it was in 2008 when he made his name on the international stage by reaching the finals of the Australian Open as an unseeded entry—Tsonga would win the first set of his final with Novak Djokovic before falling in four sets.
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Tsonga has not been to a Grand Slam final since his 2007 campaign but has caught fire at RG15 as the 14-seed. Tsonga looked poised to cruise to a straight-set victory over Nishikori in the quarters, winning the first two sets 6-1, 6-4, but Nishikori stormed back to force a fifth set; the match was delayed nearly 40 minutes due to falling debris in the stands.
Tsonga’s flair for the French dramatic appeared again after the match when he decided to write: “Roland, je t’aime” with his feet in Court Philippe Chatrier’s red clay. Tsonga laid down on the court and formed the “T” in “t’aime.” Jo-Willy may love Roland Garros, but you can bet your last baguette they will be partying on the streets of Paris in the lead-up to the semifinal.
Tennis-mad France has had little to cheer for since Yannick Noah’s French Open victory in 1983. On the men’s side, only Henri Leconte (1988 French Open), Cedric Pioline (1993 U.S. Open, 1997 Wimbledon) and Tsonga have reached a Grand Slam final since the dreadlocked Noah turned the circuit on its ear in ‘83.
While Tsonga is one of only a handful of active players to reach the quarters at all four Grand Slams and one of only two players to have defeated each of the Big Four (Djokovic, Nadal, Federer and Murray) at a Grand Slam, major success has eluded “Ali.”
Tsonga will face Stan Wawrinka in the semifinal who he is 3-3 lifetime against. Wawrinka will be tough to handle after he easily dispatched his Swiss countryman Roger Federer in straight sets. Tsonga and Wawrinka do have a history at the French with Tsonga melting down in the third round of the 2011 tournament—Tsonga took the first two sets, only to fold and lose in five.
While the Chatrier court was in disrepair for Tsonga’s quarterfinal match, it may be torn to shreds should JWT lift Le Coupe des Mousquetaires in 2015.