Scintillating Tsonga not going anywhere
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga's enthralling and powerful play has invoked memories of last year's run to the Australian Open final. Healthy and dominant again, there's something mystical about this giant talent.
French Davis Cup captain Guy Forget also cautioned against mystical thinking. "What was important was that he made the final of a Grand Slam, whether it was here or the U.S. Open or anywhere,'' Forget said. "That lets you know you're a player capable of those results.''Tsonga himself, as mild-mannered and serene off-court as he is dramatic on it, pursed his lips slightly in thought as he considered the question. "I feel really free here, the Aussies are so nice, everyone's walking around in T-shirts and shorts, it's pretty cool,'' he said. "But last year was a totally different thing.'' Yet to a spectator's eyes, Tsonga does seem infused with a mystical power as he prowls the two-toned blue surface at Rod Laver, mobile and powerful as a panther. He says he's trying to be more calculated about the risks he takes, but still goes for some shots with seeming telepathy. On Monday night, Tsonga flashed parallel to the net to return one cross-court beauty from Blake, moving into space like a soccer player anticipating a pass and flicking a reaction shot for a winner. He often stalks around carrying on an animated conversation with himself between points. Tsonga says he has always done that, and his longtime coach, Eric Winogradsky, says he's tried to channel that impulse rather than stifle it. "He has a need to express himself, and he sometimes forgets to just take a moment, take his time and breathe,'' Winogradsky said. "But I think he motivates himself this way.'' Tsonga actually got more of a breather than he would have liked during the third set against Blake when play was halted for about 8 minutes to wait out the noisy fireworks show in honor of Australia's national holiday. The pause seemed to help Blake, who took a 5-2 lead but was unable to convert a set point as Tsonga came roaring back.
"He looked a little stiff after the delay,'' ESPN analyst Brad Gilbert said. "It's interesting, when I was coaching Andre [Agassi], that happened twice here and they played through it. If it was 85 degrees, it's one thing, but it was cold out there and [Tsonga] is a big guy. I thought he was lucky to get out of it in three -- James let him off the hook a little bit."
Gilbert said that Tsonga should be able to sustain a high ranking if he can stay healthy.
Bonnie D. Ford covers tennis and Olympic sports for ESPN.com. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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2009 AUSTRALIAN OPEN
Women's singles: Serena Williams, United States
Rafael Nadal, Spain
Men's doubles: Bob and Mike Bryan, United States
Women's doubles: Serena and Venus Williams, United States
Mixed doubles: Sania Mirza and Mahesh Bhupathi, India
Official scoreboard: Scores
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