Nicknamed “Ali”, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga’s resemblance to the boxing great goes beyond just looks and the shadow boxing celebration he often does after a wins. The affable world No.13 also has exceptional movement for a big man (188cm) and a powerful serve to go along with solid groundstrokes on both wings, tennis’ version of a floating butterfly and stinging bee.
The tennis world got its first good look at Tsonga at the 2008 Australian Open when, as an unseeded player, he defeated Rafael Nadal en route to the finals (l. to Djokovic). Since his breakthrough year, Tsonga has been a constant fixture on tour, earning a career-high ranking of five and made another five trips to semis at the majors, and he’s won at least one title every year except for 2010. His twelve career titles include two ATP Masters He most impressively beat three of the “Top 4” on his way to the 2014 Canadian title – Novak Djokovic in the third round, Andy Murray in the quarters, and Roger Federer in the final.
However, Tsonga’s full potential has been hampered by injuries throughout his career. “It’s never easy because you lost time,” he said. “You lost time to be a better player. All the other guys play and they improve a lot their game. You just hope. Then you have to come back at your level (and) other guys at this time are even better.”
This season hasn’t been much better with adductor and knee injuries causing him to retire from both the French and US Opens.
“I have had a lot of difficulties in my career, and you just can’t say every single time something goes wrong I’m not playing, because I would have almost never played or half seasons only,” he said. “I don’t know how many times I will play. But, you know, it’s part of my life, you know, to have happy days and to have, you know, bad days.”
Still, the entertaining Frenchman gives absolutely everything to every match, endearing himself to fans.
In tears at having to retire at the French Open, he said: “You play with your heart, so I have no filter. As I say, the emotions just flow out of me.”
When healthy, Tsonga has again shown flashes of brilliance this year, defeating Federer in Monte Carlo and twice coming back from two sets to love down at the French Open and Wimbledon.
In Shanghai he is looking to defend last year’s finals appearance and possibly experience more “happy days” in taking home his first title of 2016.