Thursday, January 24, 2008

"Mr. Upset" - The new tennis star

MELBOURNE, Jan 24 (Reuters) - Jo-Wilfried Tsonga may bear a striking resemblance with the young Muhammad Ali but France like to seem him more as the new Yannick Noah.
The energetic 22-year-old, who knocked out another puncher in world number two
Rafael Nadal with a dazzling display on Thursday to reach the Australian Open final, is an extrovert and a showman, just like Noah.

Both Tsonga and Noah's fathers were born in Africa, in Congo and Cameroon respectively. The two are exceptional athletes and crowd pleasers with a taste for serve-and-volley.
Noah, now a chart-topping singer and still one of France's most popular personalities, was the last Frenchman to win a grand slam at the 1983 French Open.
Tsonga is now hoping he could be the next.

Before outclassing Nadal, he had sounded warnings by flooring two top 10 players in Britain's Andy Murray and Frenchman Richard Gasquet, an exceptionally gifted player and France's greatest hope until this week.

World number 38 Tsonga had promised much when he reached two Australian Open semi-finals in the juniors. But a series of injuries meant he failed to reproduce the form on the main tour and he was soon eclipsed by his younger compatriots Gasquet and the gangly Gael Monfils.
On Thursday, he finally emerged from their shadows with his breathtaking 6-2 6-3 6-2 victory over Nadal.

"He's got a big heart, on and off the court," said his coach, Eric Winogradsky.
"He makes life easier to all those around him. He's never depressed. Even when he was in a hospital bed, he wasn't. Having to fight all those injuries is probably why he is so strong mentally today."

At his brilliant best, Tsonga is the supreme entertainer on a tennis court, just like Noah was in his playing days.

Never, however, had he been as sensational as he was against Nadal, thrilling the crowd by hitting astonishing winners almost at will.
"It was like in a video game," he said after reaching his first final of any kind on the men's tour.
"If I needed an ace, I fired an ace. I was in the zone, I had the impression I just couldn't miss. I was hitting harder and harder and not making mistakes. I was untouchable."
His first thoughts were for his parents, Didier and Evelyne, both teachers in the Le Mans region, in western France, where Tsonga likes to go fishing.
"I hope they can come to Melbourne," he said. "I would like that."
Unlike Gasquet, who finds it difficult to cope with the huge pressure he has been under ever since he was a child, Tsonga seems totally unflustered at being under the media spotlight.
"I was flying like a butterfly", Tsonga said after his quarter-final win over Russia's
Mikhail Youzhny, echoing famous words by Ali.

After that match, former world number one Jim Courier, now working for television, had saluted his performance with the words: "A star is born."

Nadal, not used to being brutally brushed aside, said after becoming Tsonga's latest punching-bag that the Frenchman could not possibly play that well every week.

If Tsonga, however, can repeat that sort of performance on a regular basis, Courier may prove to be an astute soothsayer. ---reuters---