There is something of a nearly-man vibe about Jo-Wilfred Tsonga, reaching quarter-finals, semis and finals of major tournaments, but never quite breaking the indomitable trio of Djokovic, Nadal and Federer. In this modern era this trifecta stands in the way of many claiming the top honours in professional tennis. Much like Andy Murray, the question with Tsonga is if, and when, he will be able to break through.
Surprisingly, Tsonga is older than both Nadal and Djokovic which makes the lack of titles all the more galling. However, a look into his history shows a talented performer who suffered from injuries throughout his career, especially in his formative years. (And at the time of writing, Tsonga was a slight doubt for Wimbledon due to a finger injury suffered from a heavy fall at the Queens tournament.)
…beating him for the 2003 US Open.
Born in France to a French mother and Congolese father in Le Mans, 1985, Tsonga’s early tennis career in the Juniors was a successful one, coming up against Marcos Baghdatis and beating him for the 2003 US Open.
Despite the early promise shown, his early career was disrupted by several different injuries leading a stop-start beginning to his career in 2004. It wasn’t until 2007 that he saw his career gain momentum, free of injuries and able to play several tournaments; making a name for himself in the 2007 Australian Open by playing in what is the longest tie break in the tournament’s history (20 -18).
The years that followed were somewhat similar, slowly climbing up the rankings from 212 in 2007 to 12 in 2011, a monumental climb up the table; it was probably in the summer of 2011 that he became something of fan favourite and possible (future) Grand Slam champion. The match between himself and Djokovic was tense with the latter looking to become world no1 and Tsonga looking to defeat Djokovic for the first time.
It didn’t happen but it was a valiant try from Tsonga that endeared him to the crowd, something that’s become a feature of Tsonga’s game. The pointing and double/triple spin after he wins is an expression of pure, unconstrained joy. Let’s hope in the future he gets to do it in the moments after finally breaking his Grand Slam duck.